The Pancreas, a large and flat organ located behind the stomach in the abdomen, weighs approximately 6 ounces and is about the size of a hand. The pancreas is a vital organ with multiple functions. It plays a crucial role in the digestive system, hormone production, immune response and fluid balance.
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Function of Pancreas
It performs a number of important functions primarily categorised into two main areas
- Exocrine Functions
- Endocrine Functions.
Exocrine Functions of the Pancreas
The pancreas performs exocrine functions by producing and secreting digestive enzymes that help break down food in the small intestine. These enzymes are released into the small intestine through a duct called the pancreatic duct.
- Amylase- One of the most important digestive enzymes produced by the pancreas is amylase. This enzyme is responsible for breaking down complex carbohydrates such as starch and glycogen into simpler sugars such as glucose. Glucose serves as a vital source of energy for the body’s cells and can be easily absorbed and utilised.
- Lipase- Another important enzyme produced by the pancreas is lipase. Lipase plays a crucial role in the digestion of dietary fats. It breaks down triglycerides into fatty acids and glycerol, which can then be absorbed by the small intestine and used for energy or stored for later use.
- Protease- The pancreas also produces protease enzymes, which are responsible for breaking down proteins into amino acids. The proteins from our diet are broken down into their building blocks so that they can be absorbed and used for various bodily functions such as tissue repair, enzyme production and hormone synthesis.
Endocrine Functions of the Pancreas
In addition to its exocrine functions, the pancreas performs essential endocrine functions by producing and releasing hormones directly into the bloodstream. These hormones play a crucial role in regulating blood glucose levels and maintaining glucose homeostasis.
- Insulin- Insulin is a key hormone produced by the pancreas that plays a critical role in regulating blood glucose levels. It works by facilitating the uptake of glucose from the bloodstream into cells, particularly muscle and fat cells. Insulin promotes the storage of glucose as glycogen in the liver and muscles and helps convert excess glucose into fats for long-term energy storage.
- Glucagon- Unlike insulin, glucagon raises blood glucose levels when they are too low. It stimulates the liver to break down glycogen and release glucose into the bloodstream. Glucagon also promotes the breakdown of fats into fatty acids, providing an additional source of energy during periods of fasting or low blood sugar.
Additional Roles and Functions of the Pancreas
In addition to its primary exocrine and endocrine functions, the pancreas performs several other important roles that contribute to overall health and homeostasis.
The pancreas serves as a storage site for glucose. It stores glucose and releases it into the bloodstream as needed to maintain optimal blood glucose levels, ensuring a steady supply of energy to the body’s cells. This storage function helps regulate blood glucose levels, preventing them from rising or falling.
As part of the immune system, the pancreas plays a role in the body’s defence against infections and pathogens. It produces specialised white blood cells and antibodies that help fight off foreign invaders and protect against disease. These immune cells and antibodies produced by the pancreas contribute to the body’s overall immune response and help keep infections at bay.
The pancreas also helps maintain fluid balance in the body. It produces bicarbonate ions that act as a buffer and neutralise stomach acid. By regulating acidity in the digestive system, the pancreas helps maintain the pH balance of the body. This is essential for proper digestion and optimal enzyme function.