Your pancreas is an organ about the size and shape of an average banana. It sits behind your stomach. The opening of the pancreas attaches to the first part of your small intestine.
Your pancreas performs several vital functions for your body, such as helping keep proper levels of sugar in your blood and assisting in the digestive process.
When you eat something, the food travels down your esophagus to your stomach, where it's partially digested and then emptied into the small intestine.
As the food you eat enters the small intestine, the pancreas releases several chemicals called enzymes. These enzymes help break the food down into sugars, proteins, and fats. The nutrients then move out of the small intestine and into your blood.
The pancreas also makes certain chemicals (called hormones) that help control the level of sugar in your blood and cells. These hormones are known as insulin and glucagon.
About the time you start eating, your pancreas gets ready to send insulin into your bloodstream. Insulin arrives at the cells at about the same time as the sugar from your food. It acts like a key to open your cells so sugar can enter. The sugar provides your body with the energy it needs to function properly.
The pancreas also releases insulin when you aren't eating. This helps keep the amount of sugar in your blood at just the right level, which is important for a healthy body.
If you haven't eaten for a long time, and the amount of sugar in your blood starts getting low, the pancreas releases glucagon. This hormone has the opposite effect of insulin. It releases sugar that's been stored in your liver and increases the amount of sugar in your blood. The sugar is now readily available for your cells to use.
About 10 percent of the pancreas makes insulin and glucagon. The other 90 percent produces chemicals that help you digest your food.
As you can see, the pancreas does several important things to keep your body working properly.