This article on pancreas facts will really make you give importance to this little organ that you have long been ignoring. You will get to know exactly how important this tiny organ is that remains well-hidden between bones (ribs) and the stomach.
In fact, unlike the stomach and the large intestine, pancreas is an organ, without which, survival is impossible. So, let us learn 40 interesting pancreas facts and find out why this organ is so important.
Interesting Pancreas Facts: 1-10
Naming and medical history of pancreas
1. The name ‘pancreas’ is derived from Greek and it means – All Flesh. It is a rubbery gland and has a pale color.
2. Early medical experts found it extremely difficult to understand the true function of the organ and they actually considered pancreas to be nothing more than a shock absorber.
3. The only reasons why early authors considered it as a shock absorber was its rubbery texture and its location. It was believed that this organ was responsible for protecting the stomach from getting damaged by collision with the vertebral column.
4. In mid-17th century, German anatomist, Johann Georg Wirsung, discovered that the organ is connected to the duodenum with a small duct. Wirsung named it as the ‘duct of Wirsung’ in 1642. Later however, the name was changed into pancreatic duct.
5. In 1664, Dutch anatomist Regnier de Graaf took a quill of a wild duct and inserted the same into the duct he collected from a dog. When it pulled the quill out of the duct, he noticed a clear fluid. He examined the fluid and found that it was acidic by nature.
6. Today, however, we know that juice of the organ is actually alkaline in nature because of the cells that line the pancreatic duct. These cells actually secret bicarbonate ions and make the juice alkaline.
Brief of the functions of pancreas
7. The actual function of the pancreas was not discovered until the 19th century. It was later understood that the pancreatic juices were designed for two functions.
8. The secretions from the pancreases enter the duodenum as digestive juices and help with the digestion of the food we consume.
9. The pancreas also produces hormones that passes into the blood. The blood then carries these hormones to different parts of the body where they perform some of the most vital functions of the body.
10. When the juices are passed into the duodenum, it is known as exocrine secretion and when the hormones are released into the blood, it is known as endocrine secretion.
Interesting Pancreas Facts: 11-20
Exocrine functions of the pancreas
11. By 19th century, some amazing advancements were made in the field of chemistry. It was then when it was understood that the pancreatic juices were meant for aiding the digestion process. However, the roles of hormones were yet unknown.
12. In 19th century the experts understood that the pancreatic juice consists of special agents that help to break down the large molecules of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates.
13. The then experts named these agents as ‘ferments’ however, later the ferments were renamed as ‘enzymes’.
14. It was understood that the ferments or the enzymes aided the digestive process that was already happening inside the stomach. The enzymes helped to break down the food particles into smaller molecules so that the intestines could easily absorb them.
15. It was understood that pancreatic amylase was responsible for breaking down carbohydrates into mono-saccharides and di-saccharides – simple sugars.
16. It was also understood that pancreatic lipase was responsible for breaking down fat into fatty acids and glycerol.
17. Finally, it was also found out that different types of proteolytic enzymes in the pancreatic juice were responsible for breaking down the proteins into small peptides and amino acids.
18. In 1840s, Claude Bernard – a French physiologist eventually managed to show that the pancreatic juices as well as bile coming from liver were both responsible for breaking down the fat content of the food we consume.
19. It was understood that the bile from the liver enters the duodenum where the bile duct and pancreatic duct merge together. Here the bile first uses detergent effect to convert fat into micelles – tiny particles.
20. When the fat is converted into micelles, the surface area of the fat particles increase. This is where the pancreatic lipase pitches in and breaks down the micelles into fatty acids and glycerol.
Interesting Pancreas Facts: 21-30
21. Since the pancreases provide digestive juices, it is highly possible that these juices can digest the pancreas itself. To prevent this from happening, the organ actually releases proteolytic enzymes which stay as pro-enzymes and prevent digestion of the pancreas. These enzymes remain inactive as digestive agents and are activated only when they reach the duodenum.
22. In the duodenum, the proteolytic enzymes interact with enterokinase – a different type of enzyme and are then activated where they start their digestive roles.
23. When put under microscope, it is observed that the pancreas is divided into smaller spherical units known as the acini (singular – acinus, which in Latin means ‘berry’). Acini are spherical in shape and the enzyme secreting cells are present in each acinus around a central space.
24. Interestingly enough, every single cell in an acinus is designed to produce all the digestive enzymes.
25. The enzymes produced by the cells enter the central part of the acini and pass into ducts which lead to the main secretory system. These ducts are very narrow. Gradually as the enzymes move forward, the move from larger to larger ducts to eventually enter the pancreatic duct.
26. The whole duct system is lined up by cells which are responsible for secreting bicarbonate ions and water. These bicarbonate ions and water are responsible for making the enzymes alkaline.
27. Depending upon the acidic content of the stomach, the pancreas releases the exact amount of alkaline juices that can exactly neutralize the acidic content.
28. With normal eating habits of a healthy adult, the pancreas release nearly a liter of pancreatic juices every single day!
Endocrine function of the pancreas
29. When it comes to endocrine functions of the pancreas, the main function of the organ is the production of two primary hormones – glucagon and insulin.
30. These two hormones are responsible for storing, releasing and utilizing the fuels for the process of metabolism. In other words, these hormones actually handle all nutrients that are derived from the proteins, fats and carbohydrates that we consume.
Interesting Pancreas Facts: 31-40
31. Interesting however, that’s not the only function of the glucagon and insulin. These two hormones are responsible for regulating blood sugar levels in the body. Insulin aids to lower the blood sugar level while glucagon increases the blood sugar level.
32. During the late 19th and early 20th century, several studies were conducted when it was found that the pancreas have small cell clumps that sit between the ducts and the acini. These cells are not connected to the ducts and are responsible for internal secretion of hormones inside the pancreas.
33. These cells are known as the ‘islets of Langerhans’ after their discoverer. It was understood that absence of secretion or poor secretion of a hormone named as insulin (from Latin word insula, which means an islet) by islets of Langerhans is the cause of diabetes in humans.
34. However, it was later found that the islets of Langerhans did not produce just insulin. They also produced what became known as the glucagon.
35. It became clear that the islets of Langerhans consist of two different types of cells – the beta cells that produce the insulin and the alpha cells that produce the glucagon.
36. The insulin and the glucagon work in opposite directions and are responsible for maintaining glucose storage balance and also maintains the release of glycogen (the form in which glucose is stored).
Other pancreas facts
37. People can be affected by pancreatic cancer. It is extremely notorious and is known to cause maximum number of deaths among all known cancer forms.
38. The reason for high mortality rate of pancreatic cancer is that it cannot be diagnosed in early stages of development. By the time it gets diagnosed, surgery no longer remains an option and leads to death.
39. Pancreas is broadly divided into three segments – the body, the head and the tail. It is a highly sensitive organ and is pale yellow in color.
40. The organ is not very big. It measures just 17.8 centimeters or 7 inches in length and 3.8 centimeters or 1.5 inches in width.