The pancreas is a gland that lies crosswise deep in the abdomen between the stomach and the spine. The pancreas is an integral part of the digestive system. The pancreas has two main functions: to secrete hormones that regulate blood glucose levels and to produce enzymes that help digest foods. When the pancreas malfunctions it can lead to several serious consequences.
Insulin and glucagon are two hormones regulated by the pancreas. These two hormones regulate the level of glucose in the blood. Glucose is a form of sugar that the cells of the body need for energy. But before a cell can use glucose, insulin is needed to process the sugar into a form the cell can absorb. Without insulin the cells do not get the energy needed to run the body properly, making a person weak. If the glucose is not used up it stays in the blood, which is harmful to the kidneys.
Type 1 Diabetes is caused by the body’s immune system mistakenly attacking the cells in the pancreas responsible for the production of insulin. As these cells are destroyed, insulin production is halted. Most Type 1 diabetic patients manage the disease by having insulin artificially administered. This disease is usually managed not cured. Since the patient’s own pancreas has been compromised a new pancreas is needed to restore the body’s own ability to produce insulin. There have been a few successful pancreatic transplants. At this time, the risks are very high for this type of surgery.
Type 2 Diabetes is caused by the body’s inability to process glucose even if insulin is present. This is mainly because there is too much sugar in the body and not enough insulin is produced to process the excess sugar. When the pancreas is forced to produce so much insulin to cope with high levels of sugar in the body over long periods of time the stress may cause the pancreas to break down. Type 2 Diabetes can often be controlled by diet, exercise and weight loss.
Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas where the enzymes that help digest fats, proteins, and carbohydrates start digesting the pancreas. There are two types of pancreatitis: acute and chronic. Acute pancreatitis occurs suddenly lasts a short amount of time (usually no more than 2 days) and heals itself. Whereas, chronic pancreatitis pain lasts for a long time and results in the inability to digest fat and damages insulin production. Symptoms for both may include: sever pain and swelling in upper abdomen, jaundice, fever, sweating, nausea, and rapid pulse. Causes for acute pancreatitis may include gall stones, and drinking too much alcohol. Usual causes for chronic pancreatitis are alcohol abuse and excess iron in the blood.
Pancreatic Cancer is a very deadly form of cancer. Any cancer that starts in the pancreas is called a pancreatic cancer and there are many distinctive cancers under this heading. Tumors are rarely felt and go unnoticed until malfunctions in the stomach, duodenum (1st part of the small intestine), liver and gall bladder are detected. Symptoms may include abdominal pain, back pain, weight loss or a loss of appetite, chills, and jaundice. Risk factors are cigarette smoking, over 60 years old, male, African-American, Jewish, have diabetes, have chronic pancreatitis, or have had peptic ulcer surgery. Treatments for pancreatic cancer are surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Because it is generally diagnosed late this cancer is very tough to treat.
Now that we have a basic understanding of what the pancreas does. There are a few things we can do to help a healthy pancreas stay that way: Keep your weight in the desirable range; Don’t overload your body with sugar; Get some exercise; and Limit your alcohol consumption.