Is the pancreas or liver more important

Anatomy and function of the pancreas

Pancreas anatomy

The pancreas or the pancreas is hidden behind the stomach and the spine. It is a yellowish, approx. 15 cm long, 5 cm wide and 2-3 cm thick gland that weighs approx. 80 - 120 g. It is divided into the pancreatic head, pancreatic body and pancreatic tail. The head of the pancreas, through which part of the bile duct runs, is closely related to the duodenum. The tail of the pancreas extends to the spleen on the left side. The pancreatic body lies just in front of the origin of important vessels from the aorta, which supply the liver, stomach, upper intestine and also the pancreas with blood.

Function of the pancreas

The pancreas fulfills two main tasks:

  • It is important for digestion (exocrine function).
  • It controls blood sugar regulation (endocrine function).

Exocrine function of the pancreas

The pancreas produces important enzymes. It will be daily
1.5 - 3 l enzyme-containing secretion formed. In the process, 60 g of protein are converted in the gland. That is a great metabolic achievement. These digestive secretions are produced by specialized cells throughout the gland. First, an ineffective preliminary stage arises, which is directed into a widely ramified duct system and finally collected in a main duct, the so-called "ductus pancreaticus", and released into the duodenum. Shortly before it flows into the duodenum, this pancreatic secretion is joined by the bile that comes from the liver. These secretions are directed into the duodenum, the opening point is called Papilla Vateri. In the duodenum, the pancreatic enzymes are activated, i.e. converted into their effective form. Now the food coming from the stomach can be digested.

The pancreas produces more than 20 different digestive enzymes that break down food into tiny building blocks. Only in this way can they be absorbed from the intestine into the blood. However, these enzymes are only converted so that they can perform their task after they have reached the duodenum. This prevents these enzymes from digesting the pancreas itself. The three most important enzymes in the pancreas are:

  • Amylase (carbohydrate digestion)
  • Trypsing (protein digestion)
  • Lipase (fat digestion)

The breaking down of the food components into the smallest pieces is necessary so that the body can absorb them through the intestines. If there is a lack of pancreatic enzymes, the carbohydrates (starch etc.), proteins and fats are not broken down properly and the intestine is not able to transport the nutrients into the blood. The result is that undigested food is carried further in the intestine. This leads to diarrhea, gas and stomach cramps. In addition, the lack of food in the body leads to constant weight loss, a lack of essential vitamins and dysfunction of other organs.

Endocrine function of the pancreas

In addition to digestive enzymes, the pancreas also produces an important hormone, insulin. This is produced in special islet cells that are found in small groups throughout the gland. These so-called Langerhann's islands only make up about 2.5 g of the 80-120 g gland. There are around 1.5 million islands in the pancreas. From there, the insulin is released directly from the pancreas into the blood. This hormone is crucial for blood sugar control.

In a sense, it opens the doors to all body cells for sugar. Of the various sugar molecules, grape sugar (glucose) is the most important. All cells are dependent on glucose. Without it, cell function is lost. After being absorbed from the intestine into the blood, insulin enables glucose to pass from the blood to the body's cells.

If there is too little or no insulin at all, the glucose cannot get from the blood to the body cells. This increases blood sugar, which has life-threatening consequences for humans. Diabetics have such a more or less pronounced insulin deficiency.

The pancreas produces another important hormone, glucagon. It is also made in the islet cells. Glucagon is the antagonist of insulin. If the functioning of the cells is threatened by too low blood sugar, glucagon releases glucose from reserves in the body, especially in the liver, and blood sugar rises. In the absence of the pancreas, this important safety hormone is omitted. This must be taken into account when treating pancreas-operated patients.

The production of pancreatic enzymes and insulin are largely independent of one another. If the pancreas is damaged for any reason, both functions can be disrupted independently of each other.