What is The Function of The Pancreas?

What is The Function of The Pancreas?

The pancreas is a pear-shaped organ 6-10 inches long, extending horizontally behind the stomach in the upper left part of the human abdomen. It is surrounded by the small intestine, spleen, and liver. The pancreas acts as a ductal gland that secretes digestive juices. It can also act as an endocrine gland that regulates the level of sugar in the blood. This article aims to introduce the structure of the pancreas, its functions, and the most important diseases associated with the pancreas.

Pancreas functions

The pancreas performs many vital functions in the human body, including:

Secretion of digestive juices

The exocrine glands in the pancreas secrete digestive juices that contain enzymes that break down food into small particles that can be easily absorbed. These enzymes include:

  • The enzyme amylase that helps digest carbohydrates .
  • The enzymes trypsin and chymotrypsin, which help digest proteins and convert them into amino acids.
  • The enzyme lipase, which helps digest fats and convert them into fatty acids and cholesterol.

Gastric acid secretion

The islets of Langerhans in the pancreas secrete the hormone gastrin, which stimulates the stomach to produce hydrochloric acid, which helps digest food.

Regulating the level of sugar in the blood

The pancreas secretes hormones that maintain the level of sugar in the blood within normal limits, and these hormones include:

  • Insulin Hormone
  • Glucagon

Pancreas structure

The pancreas consists of five regions: 

These include the head that connects to the duodenum, then the body, then the tail that extends towards the spleen , the processus unani, and the pancreatic notch, which is a fissure between the curve of the head of the pancreas and its body. 

A duct that drains its contents into the duodenum, and meets with the bile duct at the point where it meets the duodenum, and the second duct is the santorini duct or the accessory pancreatic duct. It extends – if present – from the pancreatic duct to the duodenum.

Pancreatic cells

Cells of the Islets of Langerhans 

They are small cells closely related to each other, and gather in the center of the pancreas to form the Islets of Langerhans, which act as an endocrine gland. Four types of cells that make up the islets of Langerhans can be distinguished:

  • Beta cells, which make up 50-80% of the cells of the islets of Langerhans, secrete the hormones insulin and amylin.
  • Alpha cells constitute 15-20% of the total cells of the islets of Langerhans, and secrete the hormone glucagon.
  • Delta cells constitute 3-10% of the total cells of the islets of Langerhans, and secrete the hormone somatostatin.
  • Gamma cells constitute 1% of the total cells of the islets of Langerhans and secrete pancreatic polypeptide.

pancreatic diseases

The pancreas may suffer from some diseases, including:


The inflammation of the pancreas results from the closure of the main pancreatic duct with stones or a tumor. This then leads to the accumulation of digestive juices in the pancreas, which leads to damage to the pancreas, this pathology occurs for several reasons, including: 

  • The presence of gallstones
  • Taking steroids
  • Alcohol consumption

Pancreatic cancer

The patient suffering from pancreatic cancer has pain in the upper abdomen, yellowing skin, eyes, and loss of appetite. Despite not knowing the exact causes of this disease, smoking and alcohol consumption are among the factors that increase pancreatic cancer risk. Palliative treatment helps improve a patient’s life by relieving symptoms only. Treatment may include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.


Type 1 diabetes results from a disorder that affects the immune system for genetic or environmental reasons. It begins to attack the beta cells in the pancreas, which prevents the secretion of the hormone insulin. As for type 2 diabetes, it results from the inability of the body’s muscles and liver to convert glucose into glycogen, and the pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin, so the body cannot control the level of glucose in the blood.

Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency

A disease that results from the pancreas’ inability to secrete enzymes in sufficient quantities.

Zollinger-Ellison syndrome

This is a tumor that develops in the pancreas or duodenum as a result of excess gastrin secretion.

Pancreatic cysts

These are cysts that can be removed by surgery incase there is a risk of developing cancer.

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