It's common knowledge that the human body has a pancreas, but do we know what it’s there for? How important is it? Can you live without it? How do you keep it healthy?
Here we will discuss everything you need to know about the pancreas and what you can do to ensure it’s in tip-top condition.
What is the Pancreas?
The pancreas is an organ located inside your abdomen, just behind your stomach. Its most significant role in the body involves digestion.1 It is approximately the size of your hand, and different parts of the pancreas have other names. (2)
The right side of the pancreas is referred to as the head, which is the organ's widest part. It lies in the curve of the duodenum, the first section of the small intestine. (2)
The left side, referred to as the body of the pancreas, extends slightly upwards, and the tail of the pancreas ends near the spleen.2
What Does the Pancreas Do?
The pancreas makes enzymes that break down sugars, fats and starches from your consumption. The pancreas creates around 8oz of juices every single day. The enzymes, which exist within the pancreatic juices, travel through the pancreas via ducts.1
You can read about the different types of enzymes in our article “An Introduction to Digestive Enzymes.”
The pancreas also makes hormones, which help the digestive system. These hormones are chemical messengers that travel through your bloodstream and can help regulate blood sugar levels and appetite, stimulate stomach acids and tell your stomach when it is time to empty itself.1
Can you Live Without a Pancreas?
Technically, yes. Your life will not continue the same as it is currently, though. The pancreas does play an essential role in the health of our bodies, so you’d need to make a few adjustments to live a healthy life without a pancreas.3
You can take medications that will help your digestive function and control blood sugar, as these are two roles of the pancreas that you can be very unwell without.
When your pancreas is inflamed, it cannot produce the enzymes you need to digest your food. This is known as pancreatitis, and it can range from mild to severe.6 Surgery may be required to treat pancreatitis if it is severe.
It's incredibly uncommon for surgery to be done to remove the entire pancreas nowadays. Still, those with pancreatic cancer, severe pancreatitis, or damage to their pancreas from an injury may need surgery to remove the whole thing.3
How Can I Keep my Pancreas Healthy?
Foods that are rich in protein, low in animal fats and contain antioxidants are the best foods the achieve and maintain a healthy pancreas. Lean meats, beans, lentils, clear soups and dairy alternatives are all great foods for the pancreas as it doesn’t need to work as hard to process them.4
Fruits and vegetables such as berries, spinach, cherries, artichokes, kale and cabbage are all rich in the antioxidants your pancreas will thank you for consuming as well as some nuts and dark chocolate.5
Avocado, olive oil, fatty fish, nuts and seeds can help with an inflamed pancreas, but it's essential to consume them in moderation.6
High-fat foods and refined sugars increase your risk of developing acute pancreatitis due to expanding the triglyceride levels and the amount of fat in your blood.6
You can cut down on red meat, organ meat, processed chips, mayonnaise, full-fat dairy and butter, pastries and sugary drinks to reduce your risk of acute pancreatitis or avoid these foods altogether to ensure you don’t worsen your condition if you have already developed it.6
The pancreas is a vital organ that helps us with one of the most important bodily functions; the digestive system. Although it is not crucial to survival to have a pancreas, it is helpful to look after it to ensure you can live a healthy life.