If someone asked you about pancreatic function, would you know how to answer? While many of us may know about the functions of the heart, lungs, liver and adrenal glands, most might admit they don’t know much about the pancreas. Controlled by both the endocrine system and the autonomic nervous system, this essential small gland and its vital functions often go unnoticed unless or until something goes wrong. There’s much to be said about maintaining healthy pancreatic function, as the pancreas is both an endocrine gland and an exocrine gland with very important digestive and hormone producing roles. Maintaining a healthy balanced diet, avoiding smoking and limiting alcohol consumption can all facilitate pancreatic health.
In its role as an exocrine gland, the pancreas produces enzymes and hormones as part of the digestive system. These digestive juices are secreted into the small intestine to further break down food after it has left the stomach. A healthy pancreas will produce about 1 liter of enzymes daily, as aiding effective digestion constitutes the majority of pancreatic function. In order to prevent the pancreas from digesting itself, enzymes are not activated until they reach the intestines. These key pancreatic digestive enzymes include:
- Trypsin and chymotrypsin to break down proteins into amino acids, which are then absorbed by the intestines.
- Amylase to break down carbohydrates and starches into smaller sugars such as glucose, allowing intestinal absorption.
- Lipase to break down fats into fatty acids, enabling intestinal absorption.
As part of the endocrine system, the pancreas produces and secretes the hormones insulin and glucagon, which work together to regulate, maintain and carefully monitor blood glucose homeostasis. As glucose feeds the cells, a steady supply of glucose is necessary but must be contained within certain limits. These two hormones help to keep blood glucose levels stable.
- When blood sugar levels are too low, glucagon stimulates liver cells to release glucose, a readily available form of energy necessary for cellular function. Secretion of glucagon raises the level of glucose in the bloodstream.
- When blood levels of glucose are too high, the release of glucagon ceases and insulin is released. Insulin aids the absorption of glucose into the cells and brings blood sugar levels down.
When something goes wrong with the function of the pancreas, the solution may be as simple as restricting sugary foods, simple carbohydrates, alcohol and greasy foods, or aiding digestion with a digestive enzyme supplement. The worst outcomes may be life threatening diseases such as pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer. Acute or chronic pancreatitis, an inflammation of the organ, is generally the result of long term alcohol abuse, which can damage or lead to scarring of the pancreas. Gallstones, certain medications and severe viral or bacterial infections can also cause pancreatitis.
The highest risk factors for pancreatic cancer are cigarette smoking and heavy alcohol use. Because of its location in the body, pancreatic cancer is often difficult to diagnose in early stages. Unfortunately, pancreatic cancer is generally fast growing and quick to metastasize. While pancreatic cancer is still relatively rare in comparison to other cancers, it’s the fourth most frequent cause of cancer death in the U.S. after lung, colon and breast cancers.
To reduce your risk of pancreatic disorders adopt, healthy lifestyles such as quitting smoking, limiting alcohol consumption, following a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy body weight and getting regular exercise.
Here are some excellent choices for pancreatic support:Cytozyme-PAN™ (Neonatal Pancreas) by Biotics Research – This supplement provides organ specific support as bovine neonatal pancreas concentrate in combination with SOD and catalase, important antioxidant enzymes. Pancreas Complex by Professional Complementary Health – This product supplies pancreas lyophilized gland concentrate and specific ingredients for synergistic pancreatic support. Pan-Lyph Chelate by Nutri-West – This supplement provides pancreatic glandular support and specific ingredients for support of balanced blood sugar levels. Hyper GTF by Priority One – This product aids in blood sugar stabilization by stimulating the pancreas and supporting better insulin usage.