The function of the pancreas is to help with digestion. It mainly does this by secreting insulin, which helps the cells in the body use glucose, which is their main fuel. The pancreas also secretes other digestive juices and enzymes. These digestive juices flow through ducts into the duodenum, which is the lower part of the stomach and the upper part of the small intestine.
The enzymes and salts in the digestive juices help the body digest proteins, sugars, fats and starches. These enzymes include lipases, which help the body digest fats, proteases, which help it digest proteins, and amylases, which break down starches into smaller sugar molecules. Proteases also help keep the small intestine free of parasites, including yeast, protozoa and parasitic worms.
The pancreas also has special cells called the islets of Langerhans. These islets secrete insulin into the blood stream, where it goes into the cells. It's crucial that the pancreas produce the right amount of insulin so that the glucose can be properly used by the cells. Diabetes is a disease where too little insulin is getting into the cells and glucose is allowed to accumulate in body tissues and blood.
The pancreas is a gland about 6 inches long that lies crosswise behind the stomach.