What is a Pancreas?
The pancreas is considered an organ as well as a gland. It is located on the back of the abdomen and is part of the digestive system. The pancreas is surrounded by other organs of the digestive system such as the liver, intestines, and spleen. The pancreas plays an important part in the digestion of food and regulating blood sugar levels in our body by secreting insulin.
Functions of Pancreas
The pancreas is an integral part of the digestive system and performs two important functions for the body-
– The creation of enzymes. Enzymes are pancreatic juices that help in the digestion of food. They break down various nutrients and minerals from food. It also produces hormones for the body.
The enzymes contain various substances that are used to digest different types of nutrients. Trypsin and chymotrypsin digest proteins, amylase digests carbohydrates, and lipase digests fats.
– Production of insulin and glucagon, both of which help keep blood sugar levels in control. Insulin reduces blood sugar levels when they are high, while glucagon increases blood sugar levels when they are low.
How does the pancreas produce insulin?
As we know, the pancreas produces insulin that helps in keeping high blood sugar levels under control. Now let’s understand how exactly the pancreas works and produces insulin and other substances.
Step 1- Insulin is produced and secreted by the beta cells inside the pancreas. Beta cells are situated inside clusters of cells known as pancreatic islets or islets of Langerhans. Beta cells comprise 50 to 70 percent of cells in pancreatic islets.
Step 2- After eating, the carbohydrates consumed get broken down by enzymes and converted into glucose to provide energy to the body. The glucose then passes through the bloodstream which results in a spike in blood sugar levels of the body.
Step 3- The pancreas detects this spike in blood sugar levels and starts secreting the insulin that was produced by the beta cells.
Step 4- Insulin then helps in the delivery of glucose to various cells and organs of the body for energy consumption. Insulin releases glucose from the bloodstream and helps prevent high blood sugar levels which can be harmful to the body and lead to type 2 diabetes.
How does the pancreas produce glucagon?
The pancreas also produces glucagon, a hormone that helps resolve low blood sugar levels in the body. Glucagon is a type of glucose that is stored inside the pancreas to be used when blood sugar levels are low. Let’s understand how the pancreas produces glucagon.
Step 1- Glucagon is produced and secreted by the alpha cells present in the pancreas. Alpha cells are also part of the pancreatic islets.
Step 2- Your blood sugar levels drop after eating too much protein, performing strenuous exercise, or fasting. This creates a deficiency of glucose and reduces the energy levels in the body.
Step 3- The pancreas detects the drop in the blood sugar levels and starts secreting glucagon produced by the alpha cells.
Step 4- Glucagon acts as a substitute for glucose in the bloodstream and is transferred to the cells via the bloodstream. It provides energy to the body and stabilizes blood sugar levels after low blood sugar.
How does the pancreas cause type 1 diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is caused when the immune system starts attacking the beta cells in the pancreas and causes them to produce insufficient or no insulin. This causes a buildup of glucose in the bloodstream and leads to high blood sugar levels that can be very harmful.
Type 1 diabetes is more common in children and adolescents, however, nowadays more and more adults are being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes mostly runs in families and is hereditary.
The lack of insulin causes type 1 diabetes patients to inject insulin from other sources such as insulin syringes, insulin pumps, and insulin pens. These methods act as an artificial pancreas for diabetic patients. Type 1 diabetes has no cure and the patient can only manage and control the symptoms of diabetes by administering insulin regularly.
How does the pancreas cause type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is caused when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin for the effective transfer of glucose or when the body rejects the insulin produced. Type 2 diabetes is a lifelong disease just like type 1 diabetes. However, type 2 diabetes is more manageable than the two and the patients may not require to inject insulin manually. The symptoms of type 2 diabetes can be managed by following a healthy routine consisting of regular exercise, proper diet, and stress management.
Type 2 diabetes is more common in middle-aged adults and is caused due to obesity and inactivity more so than it is by hereditary factors. Although in some cases, type 2 diabetes can also occur in children due to childhood obesity.