DR. RAGHAVENDRA BABU, Senior Consultant – Gastrointestinal & HPB Surgical Oncology


What is Pancreas and Where is it located?

Even though overlooked by many people, Pancreas is an important organ as a part of the digestive system of our body helping in digesting the food we eat by producing digestive enzymes to breakdown the food we eat in the intestine and also producing hormones to help in regulating our blood sugars.

It is located behind and in between stomach and small intestines. It is spongy to touch and shaped like a fish, measuring about 15cms in length in adults. It’s head part is located in the junction of stomach and small intestine and this is where it releases pancreatic juices for digestion. The neck, body and tail are located in the central abdomen.

What are the functions of Pancreas and what makes it an so important?

Pancreas produces certain chemicals called enzymes that help in digestion of the foods we eat. These enzymes like trypsin, chymotrypsin, amylase, lipase help in breaking down proteins, carbohydrates and fats that we eat into their elemental forms, so that they can be absorbed. Without this digestion, all the nutrients are not absorbed. The pancreatic juice drains into intestine through a common opening both for the pancreatic duct and the bile duct.

Pancreas is also an important organ in regulating blood sugars. It produces many hormones which are released into blood like insulin, glucagon and others which maintain the blood sugar levels and also help in building of body cells and proteins. This is vital in maintaining function of key organs like brain, liver and kidneys.

What are the various diseases of Pancreas?

The common diseases of pancreas include pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatitis is inflammation of pancreas. Here the enzymes of the pancreas can digest part of pancreas itself and also surrounding fatty omentum in the abdomen. It is most commonly caused by alcohol and gallstones. It can also be caused by certain medications, genetic predisposition or dietary habits.

Pancreatic cancer is most commonly an adenocarcinoma from the enzyme-producing and ductal cells. Rarely, cancer can arise from the endocrine cells and called as neuroendocrine tumors. Smoking and alcohol are the two most common risk factors of cancer in pancreas. Pancreatitis itself can also be a risk factor.

Pancreas can be affected by other diseases like cysts, stones or precancerous conditions like IPMN.

What are the foods and lifestyle habits that can damage Pancreas?

  • Smoking
  • Excessive consumption of alcohol
  • Use of refined products like sugars, maida (refined flour), processed meats.
  • Consumption of excessive fatty foods and junk food
  • Food coloring, food additives and preservatives
  • Lack of physical activity and exercise
  • Smoking along with alcohol is a deadly cocktail which increases the risk for pancreatitis and pancreatic cancers exponentially.

How to keep Pancreas healthy?

  1. Avoid excessive use of alcohol: If you are a patient of pancreatitis or pancreatic cancer, completely avoid use of alcohol. Alcohol is an important cause of pancreatic problems and it is best avoided in everyone.
  2. Quit smoking and other tobacco products
  3. Follow a healthy diet:
    • Limit the use of fatty foods and use healthy fats from vegetables and fish
    • Avoid junk foods like burgers and fries from fast food outlets
    • Use more healthy cooking habits like boiling, steaming and baking.
    • Avoid red meats and processed meats
    • Use high protein foods like eggs, lentils, nuts, fish and chicken.
    • Have foods with anti-oxidants like fruits, green vegetables, berries, whole grains and green tea
  4. Follow a healthy lifestyle:

    • Do about half an hour of exercise per day
    • Try to lose weight if you are obese
    • Drink at least 2 to 2.5 litre of water per day
    • If you already have pancreatic disease, eat a small quantity but frequent (6 times/day) meals – This can help in better digestion in case of diseased pancreas.