The Pancreas – A Heterocrine Gland

We consume food. The basic idea behind this is to gain energy. But how do we get this energy? We get energy from glucose. This is obtained only through the metabolism of carbohydrates. And again this involves digestion and regulation of the glucose level in our body. So, in short, we desire an organ capable of doing this. And this is what our pancreas does. What exceptional features does the pancreas possess to perform this?

Characteristic features of the pancreas:

Being six to ten inches long, our pancreas is pear-shaped and spongy. It is located in the upper left abdomen and anatomically classified as:

  • Head
  • Neck
  • Body
  • Tail

The head is connected to the common bile duct through the pancreatic duct. Through this connection, the digestive enzymes of the pancreas enter into the intestines. This aids in the digestion of the food.


It is heterocrine gland, and an important feature is its dual-action. It serves as an endocrine and exocrine gland. With regards to its exocrine nature, it secretes digestive enzymes. As for the endocrine part, it has cells called islets of Langerhans, which assist in hormone production. This part consists of cells which include:

  • Alpha cells – involved in the production of glucagon
  • Beta cells – production of insulin
  • Delta cells – produce somatostatin ( a polypeptide hormone)
  • F cells (PP cells) – produce pancreatic polypeptide hormone


The functioning of the pancreas:

            As mentioned earlier, our pancreas is actively involved in the secretion of hormones to regulate blood glucose levels and also enzymes that aids digestion. Let’s look into each of these functions to clearly understand them:

  1. Digestion of food: Enzymes namely trypsin, chymotrypsin, amylase, and lipase are secreted. Among these, the former two are actively involved in protein digestion. The latter two enzymes are associated with carbohydrate and fat digestion.
  2. Blood glucose regulation: The endocrine part secretes hormones such as:
    • Glucagon – raises the blood sugar level
    • Insulin – controls elevated glucose levels in the bloodstream
    • Somatostatin – reduces the release of both insulin and glucagon.

Our pancreas is a truly wonderful organ. Any malfunctioning of it leads to diabetes. So, let’s eat the right food at the right time to maintain a healthy pancreas.

August 12, 2020

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