Your Health: Pancreas 411

There is an organ in our bodies, the pancreas, which is often overlooked when we get sick. This silent and hidden gland is located deep in our abdomen.  It functions similarly to our breathing, with involuntary movement, but its viability is critical to our health.

With the pancreas hidden so deep in our body, disease of this organ is seldom detectable at the early stages of illness.  For example, pancreatic cancer is rarely diagnosed until tumors have compromised other organs nearby, such as the liver or stomach.

Not long ago, I did not know much about the pancreas.  The death of a relative changed everything for me.  And now I feel it is my responsibility to inform and educate about this mysterious gland, deep in your belly. This organ does more for us than we realize, and we should be doing more to ensure it functions at its best.

The pancreas has two core, critical functions. It produces digestive juices which are secreted into the small intestine, and then those enzymes help to  break down food.  The gland also produces the hormone insulin, which is released it into the blood stream to regulate your body’s sugar level.  When the pancreas can no longer produce insulin to lower sugar levels, symptoms of diabetes begin to appear.

Excessive alcohol consumption or tobacco use contribute to disease of the pancreas.  Pancreatic cancers are especially difficult to treat, because they are usually diagnosed at a late stage of the disease. About a quarter of all cases are linked to smoking, with 5-10% of cases attributed to family genes.

It is important to listen to your body when it hurts. But the symptoms of a diseased pancreas are harder to detect because of the location of the organ.  Often, illness within the pancreas is manifested as upper abdominal pain, fever, back pain or nausea.

Believe it or not, we can actually live our lives without a pancreas, but you would need to take enzyme supplements to facilitate digestion as well as insulin to regulate blood sugar levels.  This would be a horrible way for a person to live. We don’t realize what an important role our pancreas plays in our lives, until something goes wrong with it.


What YOU CAN Do To Help Your Pancreas Stay Healthy?

  • Avoid tobacco use.
  • Consume less alcohol.  I AM NOT SAYING DON’T DRINK, but limit your intake.
  • Avoid fatty foods and limit the amount of dairy and fried foods in your diet.

I researched and wrote this article in memory of the life of my cousin, Matthew Retzloff, who died August 10, 2017. He was 25 years old. He struggled with alcoholism. His doctor told Matthew his pancreas could not handle the stress of the alcohol he put in his body.  On top of that, Matthew’s family had a history of diabetes, which doubles your chance of pancreatic disease.  Rest in Peace, Matthew.

—by Tracey J. Egert

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