The pancreas is an endocrine as well as exocrine gland which plays double role of secreting hormones into blood and secreting enzymes through ducts. It belongs to both the endocrine and digestive systems with cells working mostly on the digestive side. However, the pancreas is involved in a crucial body function of producing hormones, namely insulin, to balance blood sugar and salt levels in the body. Absence of this balance will make your body susceptible to diabetes mellitus.
The pancreas is a 6 inch-long gland located between the stomach and the spine. It is connected to a part of small intestine called duodenum. There is a small percentage of endocrine cells in the pancreas. These little islands of cells are clustered in groups known as pancreatic islets.
Hormones of the Pancreas
Pancreas produce a variety of hormones namely, glucagon, gastrin, somatostatin and insulin all of which play a crucial role in maintain salt and blood sugar levels in our bodies. Let us have a closer look on each one of them:
- Gastrin: This hormone helps in digestion by instigating some cells in the stomach to produce acid.
- Glucagon: This hormone helps insulin sustain the flow of blood glucose by working in the contrasting manner of insulin. It prompts your cells to secrete glucose which ultimately increases your blood glucose levels.
- Insulin: Insulin regulates blood glucose by acceding many of your body’s cells to use glucose which ultimately lowers blood glucose levels.
- Somatostatin: When there is a rise in insulin and glucagon hormones, the body secretes somatostatin to maintain a balance of glucose and/or salt in the blood.
- VIP (Vasoactive intestinal peptide): Vasoactive intestinal peptide hormone controls water secretion and absorption from the intestines by signaling the intestinal cells to release water and salts into the intestines.
Diseases associated with the pancreas
When there is an issue with the production and secretion of pancreatic hormones, it causes health complications related to blood sugar imbalance. Foremost example of this complication is Diabetes:
- Type 1 diabetes: In case of type 1 diabetes, your body is incapable of producing any insulin to handle the glucose. People having this type of diabetes have to take insulin externally to help their body use glucose properly. Deficiency of insulin can cause many health problems.
- Type 2 diabetes: This type of diabetes is more common than type 1. People suffering from type-2 diabetes can produce insulin but their body doesn’t use it appropriately. They might not be able to produce enough insulin to handle glucose. In this case, diet, exercise and lifestyle choices play a significant role in preventing type 2 diabetes.
Some of the other diseases associated with the pancreas include:
- Hyperglycemia: Overproduction of hormone glucagon leads to abnormally high blood glucose levels. This condition is called Hyperglycemia.
- Hypoglycemia: On the contrary, overproduction of insulin leads to low blood glucose levels. This condition is called Hypoglycemia.
Even though pancreatic cells are devoted to the digestive system, the role endocrine cells play cannot be undermined. By regulating blood sugar levels, the pancreatic hormones ensure you don’t get affected by diabetes.
Since pancreas secretes different hormones, an insufficiency of a particular hormone leads to formation of tumor such as Insulinoma (Insulin), Glucagonoma (Glucagon), Somatostatinoma (Somatostatin), Gastrinoma (Gastrin) and VIPoma (Vasoactive Intestinal Peptide). Treatment involves an endocrinologist and surgeon who will coordinate and remove the tumor.