The Pancreas

Help for symptoms of pancreas problems and promoting pancreas health.

Select a Topic

  1. Diagnosing a Pancreatic Disorder
  2. Types of Pancreatic Disorders
  3. Help for a Healthy Pancreas
  4. Tips for Maintaining a Healthy Pancreas

What is the Pancreas?

The pancreas is a large organ approximately six inches long and is a key part of the digestive and endocrine systems. It is located deep within the upper abdomen, surrounded by the stomach, small intestine, liver, and spleen. This organ is shaped like a pear, broad at one end and narrow at the other end. It is divided into three sections – the broad end of the pancreas is called the head, the midsection is called the body and the narrow end is called the tail. If pancreas health is compromised a number of serious disorders can occur within the body.

Functions of the Pancreas

The first function belongs to the exocrine pancreas. The pancreas produces digestive juices and enzymes to help digest fats and proteins. When food has been partially digested by the stomach, it is pushed into the duodenum (the first part of the small intestine). Secreting its enzymes into the duodenum helps to prevent the protein-digesting enzyme known as trypsin from eating the protein-based pancreas or its duct. Pancreatic digestive juices and enzymes are released through a small duct attached to the duodenum to mix with the food. The exocrine pancreas also produces enzymes that break down carbohydrates (amylase) and fats (lipase) as well as sodium bicarbonate which helps to neutralize the stomach acids in food.

The second function belongs to the endocrine pancreas. The pancreas produces the hormone insulin together with a variety of other hormones. Insulin helps to control the body’s blood sugar (glucose) levels. It is produced by small groups of pancreatic cells called the Islets of Langerhans, which are also known as the "islet cells" Insulin is secreted when your blood sugar is raised and it causes the muscles and other bodily tissues to take up glucose from the blood to fuel their activity. Insulin also promotes the absorption of glucose into the liver, where it is stored as glycogen for use in response to stress or exercise. If the islets of Langerhans produce too little insulin, glucose levels in the blood are raised and can result in Diabetes as well as increasing the risk of a number of other problems throughout the body.

Diagnosing a Pancreatic Disorder

Pancreatic Disorders symptoms can resemble unrelated ailments so it is a good idea to be checked out by a medical professional if you feel that something is wrong.

Signs and Symptoms of a Pancreatic Disorder

  • Pain in the upper abdomen
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes (Jaundice)
  • Bloating
  • Back pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea

Types of Pancreatic Disorders

Symptoms of pancreas problems can be caused by many different factors. It’s important to get an accurate diagnosis before beginning any type of treatment in order to make sure you are treating the correct underlying condition.

Acute Pancreatitis

Acute pancreatitis refers to sudden-onset inflammation of the pancreas. This disorder is caused when the pancreas becomes inflamed as a result of enzymes not leaving the pancreas. It leads to burning and irritation, and the enzymes may also eat into the abdominal cavity. Common causes include infection, excessive alcohol intake, and gallstones blocking the bile tubes.

Chronic Pancreatitis

Chronic pancreatitis refers to recurring episodes of inflammation. When inflammation persists, it destroys part of the pancreas and reduces its ability to function. Common symptoms include digestive upsets and fatty, foul-smelling stools. Alcoholics are at increased risk of developing chronic pancreatitis.

Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer infects the cells of the duct and spreads into the body of the pancreas. Blood vessels and nerves which are near to the pancreas may also become involved in the spread of the cancerous cells. If left untreated, pancreatic cancer can spread to all the abdominal organs as well as other parts of the body.

Enlarged Pancreas

An enlarged pancreas can happen for a number of reasons. Simply it means that the pancreas is above the average size; however, it’s the reason why it may be bigger than normal is where the questions lies. The pancreas can develop diseases such as acute pancreatitis, chronic pancreatitis, pancreatic pseudocyst, Cystadenoma, abscess, and pancreatic cancer which may cause an enlarged pancreas. Alternatively, tumors, diabetes and enzyme deficiency, also cause enlargement in the pancreas.

Diabetes

Diabetes occurs either when the pancreas stops producing insulin or the body is unable to use the insulin it produces. Both result in glucose, the body's fuel, not being absorbed by the cells and building up in the bloodstream. Insulin is needed to be present and working for this absorption into the cells to occur. Complications of high blood sugar levels can result in kidney damage, eye damage, nerve damage and increased risk of stroke or heart attack.

There are two types of diabetes.

  • Type 1 Diabetes is insulin dependent and diabetics must inject themselves with insulin daily to control blood sugar levels.
  • In Type 2 Diabetes, the body produces its own insulin, but the cells are unable to respond to it properly. This form of diabetes is generally associated with obesity.

Pancreatic Exhaustion and Failure

Unhealthy diets have a lot to do with pancreatic problems. Eating too many sugars can cause an overload of sugar in the body. As the body breaks down these sugars it does it in such a rapid pace, it creates blood sugar imbalances. This rapid rise and fall process of high to low blood sugar levels due to diabetes, leads to the deterioration of the pancreas and eventually pancreatic exhaustion, which can be prevented by eating a proper diet.

Because the pancreas’s main job is to regulate blood sugar, it is common for the pancreas to become exhausted for those who have diabetes. Once the pancreas has exhausted itself by working so hard to break down sugars, it will stop producing insulin hormones altogether, making it impossible for the body to break down sugar at all.

Help for a Healthy Pancreas

Treatment for pancreatic disorders depends on the cause. These are serious disorders and intensive medical treatment and care is required. Lifestyle changes including adjustments to diet and elimination of alcohol and smoking are also required. Surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and lifelong medication such as insulin may be necessary to treat individual disorders.

Tips for Maintaining a Healthy Pancreas

Adopting a few good habits will help to ensure a healthy pancreas.

  • Add foods such as fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, nuts, veggies, beans, and fruit, to your diet. Eating raw and unprocessed foods can also be helpful.
  • Eliminate habits that may hinder pancreas health such use of tobacco or alcohol
  • A professional massage and natural detoxification regimen may help your pancreas and help your body rid itself of harmful toxins.
  • Products such as Insulate Plus™ may also provide help with pancreatic health and maintaining blood sugar levels already within the normal range.