The pancreas is an important organ in the human body due to its role in the homeostasis of body functions. It has important functions that are related to the digestion process in the small intestine. In addition, it has an important role in the regulation of blood sugar level. The pancreas is located in the retroperitenium in the upper side of the abdomen.
The pancreas is composed of of a head and a body in addition to a tail which extends to the spleen in the left side of the abdomen. The pancreas is an indispensable organ in the body that without it we cannot live. It is an unusual organ in the sense that it has a dual function of being an exocrine as well as an endocrine gland.
The exocrine function of the pancreas is related to its secretion of important enzymes for the digestion process of food in the intestine. The exocrine pancreas secretes enzymes to the duodenum through the pancreatic duct. The secretion of the exocrine pancreas is basic in its pH. Thus it helps to neutralize the acidic content of the stomach which enters into the duodenum.
The pancreatic secretion is key to the success of the digestion in the small intestine. It contains three main enzymes which are specific each for a different type of macromolecules. Food that is ingested in the diet and which is degraded enzymatically in the duodenum include carbohydrates and lipids in addition to proteins.
The enzyme which is secreted by the pancreas and which is specific for degrading carbohydrates to its monosugar units is called amylase. This enzyme degrades carbohydrates to glucose and galcatose and fructose. The pancreas is not the only organ in the body and which secretes this type of enzyme. It is also secreted by the salivary glands in the mouth wall which partcipiate in the partial digestion of carbhydrates.
The other enzyme and which is secreted by the exocrine pancreas and which is specific for degrading proteins is called peptidase and trypsin in addition to chymotrypsin. These enzymes all function by degrading peptide bonds in proteins. Each of of these enzymes being specific for a different type of amino acids.
The pancreas is not the only site in the body and which secretes this type of enzyme that participates in the digestion process of proteins. In the stomach the enzyme pepsin is secreted by the stomach cells and participates in the digestion of proteins in the stomach. The main site for digesting proteins is however the small intestine and the major enzyme is secreted by the pancreatic tissue to the pancreatic duct and from there to the small intestine.
The third type of enzymes that is secreted by the exocrine pancreas is called lipase. This enzyme is specific for lipids and in particular for triglycerides that are ingested in the diet. Lipase enzyme is specific for degrading triglycerides and which are hydrolyzed to fatty acids and glycerol which are then absorbed into the blood circulation and after that are processed in the body through metabolic pathways such as energy production through the oxidation of fatty acids.
Lipase is secreted only by the exocrine pancreas. There is no other site in the body and which secretes thi enzyme also. Therefore its deficiency in pancreatic failure has clinical significance in which it can cause maldigestion of fats causing constipation and steatorrhea in the affected individuals. Also there is presence of lipids in the stool. One of the signs of pancreatic failure is the presence of fat in the feces that cause them to float on water. The treatment to maldigestion that results from pancreatic failure is to administer supplements of pancreatic enzymes which can aid in the digestion process of food in the intestine.
An example of a drug that contains pancreatic enzymes and which helps in the digestion process is called pancreatin. It is a mixture of the three enzymes that were mentioned in this article. Pancreatic failure that causes maldigestion usually occurs due to obstruction in the pancreatic duct which leads to activation of the pancreatic enzymes inside the pancreas. This leads to autodigestion of the pancreatic tissue causing pancreatitis.
One of the signs of pancreatic failure due to obstruction in the pancreatic duct in the head part is the development of jaundice due to the obstruction of bile flow to the duodenum from the gallbladder. Jaundice which occurs due to the same reason as above occurs frequently due to cancer of the head of the pancreas or due to obstruction by a stone of calcium salt.