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About the Pancreas

The pancreas is a J-shaped organ that is about the size of your hand and is located in your abdomen. It lies behind the lower part of your stomach and performs two very important functions.

The first function is production of insulin, called the endocrine function of the pancreas. The pancreas is made up of clusters of cells called the islet of Langerhans. These islet cells are made up of two types: alpha cells, which make glucagon, a hormone that raises the level of glucose (sugar) in the blood, and the beta cells, which make up the insulin.

If the beta cells do not produce enough insulin, Type I diabetes will develop. Patients with diabetes have issues with either production or utilization of insulin and are subdivided into Type I and Type II diabetics. Type 1 diabetics do not produce insulin, usually due to an auto-immune process. Type II diabetics usually produce normal or increased amounts of insulin, but have increased resistance in the peripheral tissues.

The second function of the pancreas, called exocrine function, is production of digestive enzymes that help the body digest fats, proteins and carbohydrates.