5 Surprising Rules to Protect Your Pancreas
What does the pancreas do?
The pancreas has three main functions:
- Makes digestive enzymes to digest food in the small intestine.
- Neutralizes the acid from the stomach
- Regulates blood sugar through two main hormones
In fact, the pancreas can make 6 to 8 cups of digestive juices every day, including many different enzymes to digest your food, and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). At the same time, it has to keep your blood sugar normal by monitoring the blood for sugar and making hormones for the blood. The pancreas is a small but mighty powerhouse in your body!
I thought digestive enzymes were in my stomach?
The stomach has a few enzymes to break down large proteins and starches into smaller units. However, the pancreas produces enzymes for the small intestines to break down food into individual amino acids, fatty acids, sugar, vitamins and minerals. This is where most of our digestion takes places.
The system is so amazing that the pancreas doesn’t produce some random enzymes or the same ones all the time. Rather, the pancreas makes the exact enzymes needed to digest the certain foods you eat. Then, as each enzymes breaks off individual sugar molecules they are immediately absorbed, effectively spreading out the absorption of nutrients over time.
How does the pancreas know what I’m eating?
Just like your tongue has taste buds that tell you what is sweet, sour, bitter salty, the pancreas has “taste buds” or detectors to determine how to do its job. As the blood gets “sweeter,” your pancreas puts out more insulin. When your blood isn’t “sweet enough,” the pancreas makes glucagon to keep the blood sugar constant. For digestion, the pancreas knows how much acid is in the duodenum so it can make enough sodium bicarbonate. It also “tastes” the food coming from the stomach to determine how much, and what types of enzymes to make.
Why does the pancreas make “baking soda?”
Because the stomach makes a lot of acid, the food leaving the stomach and entering the small intestine is very acidic. The pancreas enzymes don’t work well with all that acid; they need a more alkaline environment to efficiently digest food. Baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, neutralizes acid so your food can be digested and absorbed.
How does insulin work?
Insulin controls our energy supply. When we eat starches, they are digested into sugar, or glucose. All the fruit, vegetables, beans, grains, bread, cereal and so forth that we eat are digested into glucose, which our cells use for energy. However, glucose cannot get into the cell by itself.
As the glucose/sugar is absorbed through the intestines, the blood sugar level gets higher and higher. The cells need sugar, but they can’t get it without insulin. The pancreas makes insulin as the sugar rises. Insulin opens cell doors, allowing glucose in so the cells have energy. When the blood sugar starts to go down, the insulin level drops and the cells cannot take in any more glucose. The cells must then live on their stores, or use fat.
What is Glucagon?
The hormone that is the opposite of insulin is called glucagon. Glucagon also comes from the islet cells of the pancreas and is secreted when insulin is low. Glucagon causes the liver and fat cells to put out energy from their storage so there is always enough energy to run the body. The system is beautiful, keeping the blood sugar very constant in the face of eating and fasting, which causes highs and lows of sugar in the blood. Without these hormones, we would have to worry about eating too much or too little to keep our energy constant.
Why do I need insulin?
Insulin is the door that allows sugar into cells. Every cell in the body has receptors for insulin but muscle, liver, and fat cells require insulin to get sugar into the cell. Without insulin,