Alright, so obviously I write about Diabetes a fair bit as I have been a Type 1 Diabetic since 1982. But here’s the reality: as of 2017, 1 out of every 16 Canadians have been diagnosed with some form of Diabetes (Type 1 or Type 2), which comes out at about 6% of the Canadian population. This is an increase from 1 out of every 32 Canadians back in 1982 when I was diagnosed.
But how much do we actually know about this organ? It sits just below the liver and behind the stomach. It’s usually about 6 inches long, depending on the person and it has many functions outside of insulin production. When you hear a Type 1 Diabetic state that their Pancreas is dead or doesn’t function, they couldn’t be more wrong.
The pancreas helps to aid in the digestion process by excreting certain enzymes. Besides producing insulin (if the gland is healthy), it plays an important role in overall digestion and helps with the break down of cholesterol.
When blood sugars drop dramatically, the pancreas releases a hormone called glucagon, which helps the liver break down glycogen into glucose to help elevate blood sugar. The only time this is trumped is when a Diabetic consumes heavy quantities of alcohol, which occupies the liver as such that it cannot break down the aforementioned glycogen. This is why Type 1 Diabetics have a sudden drop in blood glucose.
The actual issue that causes Type 1 Diabetes includes the body’s own immune system attacking the beta cells in the pancreas so that it can no longer produce insulin. So it isn’t so much that the gland isn’t functioning properly, it’s that one’s own body destroy’s the pancreas’ ability to maintain a proper insulin level.
Although the pancreas’ two primary functions include an exocrine function to help with digestion and an endocrine function that helps to take care of blood glucose levels (which is what leads to Diabetes), there are a number of functions that the pancreas performs that are normally behind the scenes.
So don’t despair, dear Diabetics! Your slim, 6-inch gland does have SOME use (pun fully intended). I’d like to thank my friend and colleague, Daryl, for providing the inspiration for this post. He provided the idea for me to write about the pancreas and it’s many functions outside of insulin production. Many thanks, Daryl! ☯