What Does the Pancreas Do?
The pancreas is an elongated, flat organ found deep within the middle part of the right side of the abdomen. A portion of it lies between the stomach and the spine, while the rest of it attaches to the curved part of the duodenum. Wider on the right end, the pancreas tapers to a tail-like shape on the other end. The wider part of the pancreas is called the head, the narrowest end is called the tail, and the parts in between are called the neck and the body. The pancreas is about 6 inches long.
The pancreas is an important component of both the endocrine and the digestive functions. It is composed of two main types of functional cells. One type has exocrine functions and produces the digestive enzymes namely protease, lipase, and amylase; the other has endocrine functions and produces the hormones insulin, glucagon, gastrin, and amylin.
1. Exocrine Pancreas
The exocrine function of the pancreas produces enzymes necessary for the digestion of food. Acinar cells, which carry out exocrine functions, form the bulk of pancreatic tissues. These cells produce the following enzymes: trypsin, chymotrypsin, amylase, and lipase. Once the enzymes are produced, they flow through small ducts that join with others to form progressively larger ducts that lead into the main pancreatic duct.
The pancreatic duct runs through the length of the pancreas, collecting the fluid containing enzymes and transporting it to the duodenum. The three main groups of pancreatic enzymes are protease, lipase, and amylase.