If we were handing out ‘Oscars’ to the best supporting organ in the body, I’d have to say if I was one of the judges I would give it to the Pancreas.  The best supporting body part .. da dah .. ‘The Pancreas.  The Pancreas would not want all the fuss, but let me tell you, it’s an organ that deserves all the fuss because of what it as an aide to the digestive process has to put up with, day in and day out!  It’s nothing short of remarkable, and here’s why…..

The pancreas has dual roles - it is an organ of the digestive system and the endocrine system. The exocrine pancreas produces enzymes that help to digest food, particularly protein. The endocrine pancreas makes the hormone insulin, which helps to control blood sugar levels.

So where is the Pancreas in your body?

The pancreas sits brilliantly behind the stomach in the upper left abdomen. It is about as long as your forearm to your wrist. It is surrounded by other organs including the small intestine, liver, and spleen. It is spongy, about six to ten inches long, and is shaped like a flat pear or a fish extended horizontally across the abdomen.

Where The Stomach meets the first part of the small intestine.

The wide part called the head of the pancreas, is positioned toward the center of the abdomen. The head of the pancreas is located at the juncture where the stomach meets the first part of the small intestine. This is where the stomach empties partially digested food into the intestine, and the pancreas releases digestive enzymes into these contents.  This is a very underrated, not talked about enough part of biochemistry, and what I refer to as the Academy Award performance of a body part.

Sections of the pancreas labeled

It’s all about the blood:

Several major blood vessels surround the pancreas, the superior mesenteric artery, the superior mesenteric vein, the portal vein and the celiac axis, supplying blood to the pancreas and other abdominal organs.  All the messages, the script if you will, is circulating through the blood vessels.  The chemistry of any given meal is producing this symphony within your digestive system.

The pancreas with surrounding vessels and organs

95% of the pancreas consists of exocrine tissue that produces pancreatic enzymes for digestion. 95%!!!!

The remaining tissue consists of endocrine cells called islets of Langerhans. These clusters of cells look like grapes and produce hormones that regulate blood sugar and regulate pancreatic secretions

A healthy pancreas produces the correct chemicals in the proper quantities, at the right times, to digest the foods we eat.

Exocrine Function:

The pancreas contains exocrine glands that produce enzymes important to digestion. These enzymes include trypsin and chymotrypsin to digest proteins; amylase for the digestion of carbohydrates; and lipase to break down fats.

So I see them as casting agents! When food enters the stomach, these pancreatic juices are released into a system of ducts that culminate in the main pancreatic duct.

The pancreatic duct joins the common bile duct to form the ampulla of Vater which is located at the first portion of the small intestine, called the duodenum.

Anyone who has sat through my ‘Gut-Brain Talks‘ will remember how vulnerable the duodenum is to disease, malfunction and of course cancer.  With food being overcooked, or complicated in its makeup, the duodenum is an easy target for trouble!

The common bile duct originates in the liver and the gallbladder and produces another important digestive juice called bile (the washing-up liquid).

The pancreatic juices and bile are released into the duodenum, and help the body to digest fats, carbohydrates, and proteins.  If the gallbladder is compromised in any way, this vital piece of production can cause our potentially ‘award-winning event to bomb out at the box office!’

Endocrine Function:

The endocrine component of the pancreas consists of islet cells (islets of Langerhans) that create and release important hormones directly into the bloodstream. Two of the main pancreatic hormones are insulin, which acts to lower blood sugar, and glucagon, which acts to raise blood sugar.

Our brain is constantly arguing with the pancreas throughout the day because of the dip and rise in blood sugar.

Maintaining proper blood sugar levels is crucial to the functioning of key organs including the brain, liver, and kidneys.

The pancreas, gallbladder and duodenum

Diseases of the Pancreas

Disorders affecting the pancreas include pancreatitis, precancerous conditions such as PanIN and IPMN, and pancreatic cancer. Each disorder may exhibit different symptoms and require different treatments.


Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas that occurs when pancreatic enzyme secretions build up and begin to digest the organ itself. It can occur as acute painful attacks lasting a matter of days, or it may be a chronic condition that progresses over years.

Learn more about pancreatitis, its causes, and treatment options.

Precursors to Pancreatic Cancer

The exact cause of pancreatic cancer is still unknown, but there are known risk factors that increase the risk of developing the disease. Cigarette smoking, a family history of pancreatic cancer or hereditary cancer syndromes, and chronic pancreatitis are some of these factors.

In addition, certain pancreatic lesions such as Intraductal Papillary Mucinous Neoplasms (IPMNs) and Pancreatic Intraepithelial Neoplasia (PanIN) are considered precursors to pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic Cancer

The most common form of pancreatic cancer is pancreatic adenocarcinoma, an exocrine tumour arising from the cells lining the pancreatic duct. A far less common form, endocrine tumours, account for less than 5% of all pancreatic tumours and are sometimes referred to as neuroendocrine or islet cell tumours.  Any way you look at it, Pancreatic Cancer is far from an ideal diagnosis, and you want to foster a lifestyle that supports your pancreas so that this is never your scenario.

To learn more about the pancreas, gut health, Iridology and food transport time, check out Annie’s book - Lifestyle Reset The Essential Guide To Healing You and the Planet.