Purpose and Anatomy of The Pancreas

Written By Tony Subia
April 2020

Anatomy of The Pancreas

Most people know the role and purpose of more well-known body organs like the heart, lungs, and kidneys. But fewer are familiar with the pancreas and its dual role and function within the body. The average size of the pancreas is about 6 to 8 inches long and about 2 inches wide. The pancreas is located behind the stomach and is divided into three primary regions including the head, body and tail.

Since it is sandwiched between the stomach and the spine deep into the abdomen, any tumors are difficult to be felt by pressing on that abdomen area. This is one reason why pancreatic cancer is difficult to find and project with a surface “feeling” either by a doctor or yourself. It is the primary reason why symptoms do not expose until tumor has grown large enough to interfere with normal functions of the pancreas.

Dual Roles of The Pancreas

The pancreas serves two crucial purposes. Its “Exocrine” function produces digestive enzymes to assist the body to properly digest food. Its “Endocrine” role is producing hormones including insulin and releasing them into the bloodstream after you eat to regulate proper blood sugar (glucose) levels within safe ranges to help reduce the risk of developing diabetes and heart disease.

1. Exocrine Function. The “Digestive Role”of the pancreas. The pancreas helps the intestines absorb nutrients from food intake by secreting digestive enzymes which break-down the three main dietary components which include carbohydrates protein, and fat.

> Anylase. Enzymes that break down carbohydrates into glucose.

> Protease. Enzymes that break-down protein into amino acid.

> Lipase.
Enzymes that break-down fats.

Initially the pancreas secrets enzymes in an “inactive form” which travel down the pancreatic duct that merges with the bile duct where they enter the small intestine at its first level called the “duodenum”.

Once the enzymes enter the duodenum, they are “activated” and join the bile from the gall bladder to break-down food components. At that time, the pancreas also secretes bicarbonate to neutralize acidic stomach contents once they enter the duodenum entrance to the small intestine.

2. Endocrine. The “Hormone Producing Role” of the pancreas. The pancreas creates hormones that regulate blood sugar. The pancreas produces three types of hormones including Insulin, Glucagon, and Somatostatin which are released into the blood stream Orchestrating as a team, their role is regulating and balancing the desired narrow levels of blood sugar (or glucose).

> Insulin. This is the hormone that helps the body use sugar for its energy. If there is not enough insulin in your bloodstream, sugar levels would rise within in your blood and increase the risk of developing diabetes.

> Glucagon. It comes into play when blood sugar begins to get too low. Glucagon helps raise blood sugar levels by sending a message to the liver to release stored blood sugar.

> Somatostatin. It regulates the secretion of all three types of hormones that are involved in digestive process.


This article discusses the dual roles of the pancreas including the Exocrine and Endocrine functions of the pancreas. The Exocrine role is producing digestive enzymes whereas the Endocrine role is producing hormones regulation with a primary purpose of regulating proper levels of blood sugar. This information is only provided for educational purposes and is not intended as medical advice. Always consult your medical providers with for medical advice.

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