What is the pancreas?
What does the pancreas do?
- To make digestive enzymes which help us to digest food. Enzymes are special chemicals which help to speed up your body’s processes.
- To make hormones which regulate our metabolism. Hormones are chemicals which can be released into the blood-stream. They act as messengers, affecting cells and tissues in distant parts of your body.
- Pancreatic proteases (such as trypsin and chymotrypsin) help to digest proteins.
- Pancreatic amylase which helps to digest carbohydrates (sugars).
- Pancreatic lipase which helps to digest fat.
- Insulin - which helps to regulate sugar levels in the blood.
- Glucagon – which works with insulin to keep blood sugar levels balanced.
- Somatostatin – helps to control the release of other hormones.
- Gastrin – which aids digestion in the stomach.
How does the pancreas work?
The enzymes are made in an inactive form so that they don’t digest the pancreas itself. Once they enter the intestines the enzymes are activated and can begin breaking food down.
The main hormones released by the pancreas are insulin and glucagon. These hormones help to regulate the amount of sugar found in the blood and the body’s cells. The body’s cells need energy to function. The most readily available form of energy is glucose, a type of sugar. Insulin helps to take glucose from the blood into the cells themselves. This allows the cells to function properly. Glucagon stimulates cells in the liver to release glucose into the blood when levels are low.
The pancreas carefully monitors the level of glucose in the blood. When levels of glucose are high in the blood, cells within the pancreas make insulin. Insulin gets released into the bloodstream where it causes glucose to move into cells. This decreases the amount of glucose in the blood stream, lowering blood sugar levels. Low blood sugar levels stimulate the pancreas to make glucagon. Glucagon works on cells in the liver causing the release of glucose. If sugar levels in the blood rise above normal, the pancreas stops releasing glucagon. Insulin may then be released to balance the system again.
This system helps to keep the level of glucose in your blood at a steady level. When you eat, levels of sugar in your blood rise and insulin helps to bring them down. Between meals, when your sugar levels fall, glucagon helps to keep them up.