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What does your pancreas do?

The pancreas is a gland organ that can be located in the abdomen behind the stomach. It is a dual functioning organ that is part of both the digestive and endocrine systems. The digestive system is responsible for the breakdown of food into usable vitamins, minerals, nutrients and energy. The endocrine system releases various hormones into the body to regulate mood, growth and development, tissue function and metabolism.

What does the pancreas do as part of the digestive system?
The pancreas is an important part of the body’s digestive system as it secretes pancreatic juices into the small intestine. These juices flow through a duct connected to the duodenum called the pancreatic duct. Pancreatic juices contain digestive enzymes that break down carbohydrates, proteins and fats in the chyme. Chyme is partly digested food that is passed from the stomach to the small intestine. Some of the enzymes that can be found in the pancreatic juices are trypsin, chymotrypsin, carboxypeptidase, lipase and amylase. Both trypsin, chymotrypsin breakdown the protein in the chyme. Lipase is responsible for breaking down fat and amylase breaks down starch or carbohydrates. The pancreas also secretes another substance that helps to neutralize the stomach acid.

What does the pancreas do as part of the endocrine system?
As part of the endocrine system the pancreas produces several different hormones. The four hormones it produces are called insulin, glucagon somatostatin and pancreatic polypeptide. Insulin is the hormone responsible for decreasing the glucose level (sugars) in your blood. It does this by increasing the rate at which your cells can absorb glucose. When too much glucose is present insulin causes the body to store the excess amount as glycogen in the liver. Glucagon is the hormone the body secretes to increase the level of glucose (sugars) in the blood. The pancreas will release this hormone when the level of glucose (sugars) in the blood falls too low. This triggers the body to convert some of the glycogen stored in the liver back into glucose of the body to use. Without sufficient amounts of glucose the body cannot function correctly as the absorption of glucose releases energy. Somatostatin regulates the production of both hormones insulin and glucagon within the pancreas. The function of pancreatic polypeptide is largely unknown but is thought to help with the regulation of pancreatic secretions. Somatostatin is able to regulate the level of pancreatic polypeptide released by the pancreas.

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