The pancreas is an elongated, flattened glandular
organ with two vital responsibilities. It produces
enzymes necessary to digest carbohydrates, fats and
proteins, and it produces insulin, a hormone that is
essential in the regulation of glucose (blood
sugar), the body's main source of energy.
This oblong gland, which measures about 5 to 6
inches (13 to 15 centimeters) long, is located
between the stomach and the spine. It is composed of
glandular tissue and a system of ducts, which are
tubes that carry the fluids secreted by glands. The
main duct is known as the pancreatic duct. It
transports fluid and enzymes from the gland to the
duodenum, the upper part of the small intestine.
The pancreas is
usually described either by the function of its
cells or by its parts. It has two functional
The pancreas can
also be categorized by its five sections:
cells (also known as the islets of Langerhans,
islet cells or beta-islet cells). “Endo” means
within. There are about 100,000 endocrine cells
scattered throughout the pancreas. The
pancreatic hormones produced in the islets of
Langerhans are composed of various types of
cells, including alpha, beta and delta cells.
These are responsible for producing and
secreting hormones into the bloodstream,
including insulin (produced by beta cells),
which lowers glucose levels, and glucagon
(produced by alpha cells), which raises glucose
levels. These hormones maintain proper glucose
levels within the bloodstream and help the body
use that sugar for energy within the cells.
Delta cells in endocrine tissue secrete
somatostatin, a hormone that inhibits the
release of insulin and glucagon. The pancreas
also produces gastrin, a hormone that stimulates
the stomach to produce digestive acid.
Exocrine cells (also known as
acinar cells or non-endocrine cells). “Exo”
means outward. These cells make up the majority
of the pancreas. They produce and transport
proteins (known as enzymes) and fluids that
assist in digestion of carbohydrates, fats,
proteins and acids in the duodenum. The enzymes
are secreted into ducts joined to the main
pancreatic duct that is found along the length
of the pancreas. The enzymes then travel down
into the area where the pancreatic duct enters
the duodenum together with the bile duct within
a bulbous structure known as the ampulla of
Vater. Finally, the enzymes enter the duodenum
and become activated. Exocrine tissue also
secretes bicarbonate that neutralizes stomach
acid and inhibits the formation of ulcers.
gland’s widest part, it is on the right side of
the abdomen and lies in the curve of the
Neck. A thin
section located between the gland’s head and
middle part of the pancreas, it is found between
the neck and tail. The body is located in front
of the superior mesenteric blood arteries and
veins, which supply the intestines with blood.
thin tip, it is found on the left side of the
abdomen near the spleen.
process. This part bends backward and is found
underneath the pancreas’ head. The superior
mesenteric arteries and veins cross in front of
When food is
digested, it is transported through the
esophagus and into the stomach. There, digestive
juices break down (digest) food. The food then
flows into the duodenum where digestion
point, bile, a greenish-yellow liquid produced
in the liver that assists in digesting fats and
pancreatic fluids is secreted into the small
intestine. These liquids, along with the food,
continue through the small intestine, where
glucose travels into the bloodstream, and then
through the large intestine and rectum.
traveling through the bloodstream is allowed to
enter body cells because of insulin. Without
enough insulin, the body is unable to use
glucose for energy. High levels of glucose
circulating in the blood for a long period of
time (years) can damage nerves, blood vessels
and other body systems.
beta cells in the pancreas continually produce a
steady amount of insulin (known as baseline, basal
or background insulin) that is just enough to move
glucose (blood sugar) into cells. Insulin production
automatically increases when the body senses higher
levels of glucose circulating in the blood, such as
just after a meal.
to the beta cells can interfere with insulin
production and cause type 1 diabetes or latent
autoimmune diabetes of adulthood (LADA).
The cause of
these forms of diabetes is not completely
understood. Many scientists believe that the
pancreas stops producing insulin because the beta
cells are attacked by T-cells. Part of the immune
system, T-cells are programmed to defend against
possibly harmful elements. They may mistake the
body’s beta cells as being dangerous – an autoimmune
response. When the beta cells are attacked, the
pancreas stops making insulin.
It has generally
been held with type 1 diabetes that the pancreas has
no more beta cells. However, several recent studies
have found that the pancreas of a person with
long-standing type 1 diabetes sometimes still has
these insulin-secreting cells. Researchers hope to
find a way to keep the pancreas from destroying
disease process of type 2 diabetes does not involve
a malfunction of the pancreas. With type 2, the
pancreas is usually producing enough insulin, but
the body has developed insulin resistance and is
unable to use the insulin effectively, resulting in
hyperinsulinemia (excess insulin in the blood).
However, after years with type 2 diabetes, the
pancreas sometimes slows production of insulin, and
regular insulin administration may be needed.
Malfunction of the pancreas is not necessarily part
of type 2 diabetes but does cause type 1 diabetes
Understanding Insulin and How It Works
Insulin is a hormone. The body needs it for the
correct use of food and energy. All hormones are
made by glands. The gland that makes insulin is the
pancreas. People with diabetes don't make enough
insulin. Luckily, we have a way to replace the
insulin the pancreas can't make.
Insulin is also a protein. It can't be taken by
mouth. It would be digested, just like the food you
eat. That is why insulin is taken by injection.
How The Body
need energy all the time. Sugar is our main source
of that energy. Insulin works as a "key player" to
allow sugar into the body's cells.
When You Eat?
Some of the
food in the stomach breaks down into sugars —
one of these sugars is glucose, the body's main
the bloodstream, and the level of sugar in your
blood begins to rise.
body senses an increase in sugar, it sends a
signal to your pancreas.
makes insulin and sends it into the bloodstream.
lowers the level of blood sugar by acting as a
key to unlock the body's cells and allowing
sugar to pass from the bloodstream into the
The level of sugar in the
bloodstream falls as the sugar passes into the
When You Have Diabetes
In type 1
diabetes, your body doesn't make enough insulin.
In type 2 diabetes, your cells cannot use the
insulin your body makes.
In both types
of diabetes, sugar builds up in your bloodstream
because it cannot enter the cells.
for fuel in the cells, your body lacks energy.
Sugar stays in your blood, and
you have high blood sugar levels.
Why High Blood
Sugar is Bad
High blood sugar occurs when too much sugar builds
up in your blood and there's not enough insulin to
lower your levels. Over time, high blood sugar can
put your body's blood vessels at higher risk for
damage. This damage may lead to the eye, nerve, and
kidney "complications" commonly associated with