An Overview of the Pancreas

Understanding Insulin and Diabetes

Written by Robert M. Sargis MD, PhD

Pancreas Essentials

The pancreas is unique in that it’s both an endocrine and exocrine gland. In other words, the pancreas has the dual function of secreting hormones into blood (endocrine) and secreting enzymes through ducts (exocrine).
 
 
The pancreas belongs to the endocrine and digestive systems—with most of its cells (more than 90%) working on the digestive side. However, the pancreas performs the vital duty of producing hormones—most notably insulin—to maintain the balance of blood glucose (sugar) and salt in the body.
 
Without this balance, your body is susceptible to serious complications, such as diabetes.
 
Anatomy of the Pancreas
The pancreas is a 6 inch-long flattened gland that lies deep within the abdomen, between the stomach and the spine. It is connected to the duodenum, which is part of the small intestine.
 
Only about 5% of the pancreas is comprised of endocrine cells. These cells are clustered in groups within the pancreas and look like little islands of cells when examined under a microscope. These groups of pancreatic endocrine cells are known as pancreatic islets or more specifically, islets of Langerhans (named after the scientist who discovered them).
 
Hormones of the Pancreas
The production of pancreatic hormones, including insulin, somatostatin, gastrin, and glucagon, play an important role in maintaining sugar and salt balance in our bodies.
 
Primary hormones secreted by the pancreas include:
Diseases and Disorders of the Pancreas
Problems in the production or regulation of pancreatic hormones will cause complications related to blood sugar imbalance.
 
Of all the diseases and disorders of the pancreas, the most well-known is diabetes.
Other common diseases and disorders associated with the pancreas are:
Despite the fact that the great majority of pancreatic cells are devoted to digestive function, the endocrine cells play a major role in your overall health. By regulating your blood sugar levels, the pancreatic hormones are directly related to some of the most common diseases of today, including diabetes.

 

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