What is the function of the pancreas?

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What is the function of the pancreas?

Dear Certified Diabetes Educator,

My name is Jessie and I am 14 years old. I have had type 1 diabetes for 6 years and now I am trying to learn about my pancreas.  I  need to take my insulin by injection which I understand was made by my pancreas before I had diabetes. Would you please explain what the pancreas does?

Hello Jessie,

Thank you for writing to me.  I am so glad that you want to learn more about the human body and about how it works.  Let me explain a little about what the functions of the pancreas are.

 An adult pancreas is approximately 6 inches long. It looks a little like a hockey stick with the handle part located behind the stomach and in front of the spine. The head part is surrounded by the duodenum which is the first part of the small intestines.  The stomach is connected to the small intestines where the majority of digestion takes place.  The pancreatic duct links the pancreas to the duodenum.

The pancreas is an organ with many functions.  It is considered an endocrine gland.  Endocrine glands secrete hormones into the blood steam where they travel to other parts of the body to function.  An important role of the pancreas deals with its ability to help balance glucose (sugar) levels in the  body.  The pancreas makes hormones including insulin, amylin, and glucagon. Insulin and amylin help the body to reduce the amount of glucose in the blood, while glucagon is used by the liver to help release glucose into the blood stream as the body needs more sugar.  

With type diabetes, the beta cells in the pancreas that normally produce insulin have been destroyed.  That is why you need to inject insulin. The function of the other hormones made in the pancreas are also affected by type 1 diabetes.

The pancreas is also an exocrine gland.  Exocrine glands secrete substances through ducts into a specific location. The pancreas makes digestive enzymes and pancreatic juice that travel through the pancreatic duct to the duodenum.  These enzymes help with the digestive process by assisting with the breakdown of carbohydrate, fat and protein.

 So as you can see, the pancreas is both and exocrine and an endocrine gland. It helps with blood sugar control but also helps with the digestion of all of our food.  If you have other questions please let us know.  

Thanks for writing,

Clara Schneider MS,RD,RN,CDE,LDN