Your pancreas is a small organ located behind the stomach, nuzzled up to your small intestine.
It is a very important organ in digestion as it secretes pancreatic juices that are needed for the digestion and absorption of nutrients. These enzymes are drained into ducts within the pancreas and released into the small intestine to digest carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Your pancreas also secretes a large number of hormones that are important in regulating digestion and blood sugar levels. You likely have heard of some of these hormones:
- Insulin: decreases blood sugar levels. In diabetes your body cannot produce insulin or becomes unresponsive to it.
- Glucagon: Increases blood sugar levels.
- Somatostatin: Stops the production of insulin and glucagon as well as other digestive controlling hormones.
- Pancreatic polypeptide: Helps to control the release of the pancreatic digestive enzymes.
Each of the hormones is produced in the different cells that make up the pancreas. These cells include:
- Alpha cells – make Glucagon
- Beta cells – make Insulin
- Delta cells – make Somatostatin
- Gamma cells – make Pancreatic polypeptide
In type I diabetes, the Beta cells of the pancreas are destroyed by the person’s immune system. As a result they no longer make insulin and cannot control their blood sugar without help.
In type 2 diabetes, insulin production is not changed but instead the body’s response to the insulin is decreased. The muscles and liver no longer respond to insulin and cannot take up glucose for storage. People who have had part of their pancreas removed or damaged may become diabetic due to the loss of the Beta cells. It is often also necessary for these people to supplement their diet with enzymes and hormones to make up for the loss of the pancreas.