The pancreas is a fish-shaped grayish-pink organ of the abdominal cavity that has a dual function. It is about 6 inches long and stretches across the back and left side of the abdomen, just behind the stomach. The two major roles of the pancreas are the digestion of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, and to control the amount of sugar in the bloodstream.
The process by which the pancreas works in digestion is through a number of enzymes that are secreted into the pancreatic duct, which connects into the common bile duct. They then connect to the duodenum, the first section of the small intestine. The pancreatic enzymes can be divided into three major groups: proteases, pancreatic lipase, and amylase. The digestion of proteins is started in the stomach, but the major digestion of proteins occurs in the small intestines as a result of the proteases secreted by the pancreas. Triglyceride is a major component of dietary fat, and it cannot be absorbed directly into the bloodstream from the small intestines. It must be broken down into monoglycerides and fatty acids. This is the role of pancreatic lipase, so without this pancreatic enzyme, our body could not break down and utilize the fat that we eat. Finally, pancreatic amylase is responsible to finalize the breakdown of starch or carbohydrate and turn them into a form that is capable of absorption and utilization by our body. As the pancreas secretes these enzymes and releases them into the pancreatic duct for transportation to the small intestines, it becomes a very large player in the role of digestion.
The second major role of the pancreas is in the regulation of our blood sugar. This is accomplished through several very important hormones, including insulin, glucagon, and somatostatin. These hormones are made in the islets of Langerhans, located within the pancreas, and are not excreted into the small intestine, but are released directly into the bloodstream. There they work to keep our blood sugar at a fairly constant level. Impairment of this function of the pancreas results in diabetes, which is a growing concern in the health management across our nation and the world.