The Pancreas Performs An Important Role In the Body
When learning basic human anatomy and physiology in highschool or in the early years of college, we are often taught about nearly every organ except the pancreas. Although it is almost certain that most of us have heard of the term before, it can be difficult to remember what the organ does and why we even have one.
Some organs are easy to remember based on their societal values, such as the heart being responsible for pumping blood. The pancreas, however, is not an organ that is commonly discussed in our everyday lives. It’s time to lift that veil of ignorance. Take this opportunity to learn more about the pancreas. Learn what it does and the importance of the pancreas to a healthy body.
Functions of the Pancreas
The pancreas is seated within the abdomen, directly behind the stomach. Surrounding the pancreas are the liver, small intestine, and spleen. The pancreas ranges in length, from six to ten inches, and is usually described as a flattened pear. There are three parts of the pancreas: the head, neck, and tail. The head of the pancreas is closest to the center of the body, while the tail is positioned to the far right of the abdomen.
The pancreas is typically responsible for secreting chemicals to aid in digestion, meaning that it is a part of both the exocrine and digestive systems in the human body. Within the pancreas, there are exocrine glands enzymes that each have different functions.
Some are responsible for breaking down fat particles, some are tasked with breaking down proteins, and some are used for breaking down carbohydrates. Pancreatic fluid containing these enzymes is released into the small intestine to aid in the digestion process. In addition to secreting enzymes, the pancreas can also produce hormones into the bloodstream. These hormones are vital in certain bodily processes, such as controlling the amount of sugar in the bloodstream.
Potential Pancreatic Health Conditions
Plenty of medical conditions can result from a damaged or ineffective pancreas, including pancreatitis, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, cancer, and EPI. Here is a short list explaining what each disease entails:
- Pancreatitis: - Pancreatitis is a condition involving inflammation caused by a malfunction in the pancreatic enzymes. Typically, secreted enzymes are inserted into the small intestine where they would begin to digest molecules; however, when this condition occurs, the enzymes begin to digest portions of the pancreas instead. This condition ranges in severity and can cause health complications if left untreated.
- Cystic fibrosis: Cystic fibrosis typically affects the lungs, but it can also involve the pancreas depending on progression and severity. Being diagnosed with this condition means that the glands that typically secrete digestive enzymes from the pancreas to the small intestine are blocked by mucus. This blockage can cause the enzymes to remain in the pancreas and gradually eat away at the organ, directly causing pancreatitis.
- Diabetes: Commonly associated with the pancreas, diabetes does not cause pancreatic health issues. On the other hand, conditions such as cystic fibrosis and pancreatitis may cause complications that can lead to diabetes.
- Cancer: Pancreatic cancer develops when cancer cells originate in the pancreas. Depending on the progression of the disease, it may spread to nearby organs, including the liver, spleen, stomach, or small intestine. This form of cancer is usually not detected early because there are very few associated symptoms of the disease.
- EPI (Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency): EPI is associated with an ineffective pancreas, meaning that the organ is not performing its designated tasks to the best of its abilities. The pancreas is tasked with secreting both enzymes and hormones; however, this disease is related to the exocrine function of the pancreas. In simpler terms, the pancreas will not be able to secrete enough enzymes to properly aid in digestion.
Promoting Pancreatic Health
To promote pancreatic health, you can incorporate antioxidants, proteins, and low-fats into your diet. Foods such as beans, alternatives to popular dairy products, and lean meat products are great choices. When choosing what foods to include into your diet, be sure to evaluate your daily intake of fruits, vegetables, proteins, and carbohydrates. The overconsumption of such foods may lead to undesirable side effects and may have an opposite effect on your body.
If you have been diagnosed with pancreas-related health conditions, one thing that you can do is to get enough rest. Rest and sleep are important in repairing body tissues, and giving your organs sufficient time to recover. Diet changes and enough rest are both simple ways to maintain a healthy pancreas.
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