How does the pancreas work?


Before you begin reading this article, you might be wondering what makes the pancreas unique for you to know about it.

The human body is composed of endocrine and exocrine glands. Endocrine glands do not have ducts and secrete hormones for coordination in the body. Whereas exocrine glands secrete substances through ducts to perform metabolic activities in the body.

What makes the pancreas stand apart is that it is the only organ in the body which has both an endocrine and exocrine function and is thus known as the ‘Mixed Gland.’

The major functions of the pancreas include:

1.     Exocrine function: Secretion of enzymes like Lipase, Amylase and Protease that are crucial for digestion.

2.     Endocrine function: Secretion of hormones like Insulin and Glucagon reduces high blood sugar levels and increases low blood sugar respectively.

Location of the pancreas

The location of the pancreas helps us understand its role and coordination with other organs.

The pancreas is an integral part of our digestive system and is located in the upper abdomen behind the stomach and next to the duodenum part of the small intestine.

How does the pancreas work with the other organs?

The pancreas is a part of the digestive system that works in coordination with the gallbladder, liver and small intestine through the pancreatic duct that joins the common bile duct. The common bile duct contains pancreatic juice with bile secreted by the liver and gallbladder. These secretions are released into the small intestine where they get activated to break down the food.

How does a healthy pancreas function?

The pancreas secretes the digestive enzymes with the following functions:

1.  Pancreatic Amylase: Breaks down carbohydrates in the food or starches into simpler molecules of glucose for assimilation by the body.

2.   Pancreatic Protease: Breaks down proteins into amino acids.

3.   Pancreatic Lipases: Helps in breaking down fats into fatty acids and glycerol.

These powerful enzymes are enveloped in a protective coating when they are secreted to protect them from auto-digestion while they are travelling within the pancreas to reach the small intestine.

These enzymes lose their protective coating once they reach the small intestine and become active.

The bile juice which is the chief secretion of the gallbladder also enters along with the pancreatic enzymes into the small intestine to break down the food.

Apart from this, the region of the pancreas known as the Islets of Langerhans secretes the hormones necessary for regulating blood glucose levels. 


1.     Insulin

2.    Glucagon

Thus, a fully functioning pancreas contributes to healthy digestion and hormonal processes.

How does the pancreas work in diabetes?

Diabetes is a deadly disease that occurs when the pancreas fails to produce insulin or when the body is unable to utilise the insulin produced leading to high blood glucose levels.

A dysfunctional pancreas can cause 2 types of diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2.

In type 1 diabetes, the body’s own immune system turns against and attacks the beta cells of Islets of Langerhans that produce insulin.

This attack causes irreversible damage to the pancreas and makes it unfit to produce insulin.

The pancreas thus stops insulin production and this type of condition is called an auto-immune condition which has no cure but the effect can be regulated through an external insulin supply for maintaining blood glucose levels.


In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas may not produce enough insulin.

However, type 2 diabetes also occurs when the pancreas may produce enough insulin but the body is unable to use the insulin.

Type 2 is a combination of insulin deficiency due to insufficient production of insulin by the pancreas and insulin resistance which is the inability of the body to utilise insulin to maintain sugar levels in the blood.

Diabetes is also caused when the pancreas is observed with chronic inflammation or pancreatitis.

Pancreatic disorders:

A dysfunctional pancreas causes digestive troubles and difficulty in maintaining normal blood glucose levels.

What are the factors leading to an unhealthy pancreas?

·  Alcohol consumption

·  High-fat diet

·  Obesity

·  Tobacco

·  Genetic conditions like cystic fibrosis, a life-threatening ailment 

Habits to maintain a healthy pancreas:

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