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The Pancreas: Two Glands in One

Learn more about this digestive dynamo.

Located behind the stomach in the upper abdomen, the pancreas is a glandular organ that has two primary “jobs.” It is both a digestive exocrine gland (secreting products via ducts) and a hormone-producing endocrine gland (secreting substances directly into the bloodstream). The pancreas excretes enzymes to break down the foods we eat, and it secretes insulin and glucagon to control blood sugar (Taylor 2018). Spongy, and shaped like a flat pear, it’s about 6–10 inches long (Columbia University Medical Center 2018). To better visualize its position, touch your right thumb to your right little finger, holding the other three fingers straight and together. Place your hand in the center of your belly, just below the ribs, fingers pointing left. Your hand will approximate the shape and level of your pancreas (Johns Hopkins Medicine Pathology 2016).

Share the following fun facts with your clients to educate them about pancreatic health:

  • The pancreas was discovered by Hero­philus, a Greek anatomist and surgeon born in 336 BC (Howard 2017). The name means “all flesh” and likely “reflects the organ’s uniform texture” (Ceranowicz et al. 2015).
  • Medical experts once considered the pancreas to be “nothing more than a shock absorber,” likely because of its “rubbery texture” and location (Baidya 2016).
  • People used to think the brain, not the pancreas, released hormones. In 1902, physiologists determined that hormones released into the body came from the pancreas (Health Research Funding 2014).
  • The pancreas has a sweet tooth! In other words, it has “taste receptors just like your mouth does, specifically . . . to taste sweetness” (Wharton 2012).
  • The islets of Langerhans aren’t located in the Bering Sea. They “are groups of specialized cells in the pancreas that make and secrete hormones” (Medicine.net 2016).




Baidya, S. 2016. 40 interesting pancreas facts. Accessed Mar. 23, 2018: factslegend.org/40-interesting-pancreas-facts/.

Ceranowicz, P., et al. 2015. The beginnings of pancreatology as a field of experimental and clinical medicine. BioMed Research International, 128095.

Columbia University Medical Center. 2018. The pancreas and its functions. Accessed Mar. 23,2018: columbiasurgery.org/pancreas/pancreas-and-its-functions.

Johns Hopkins Medicine Pathology. 2016. The pancreas. Accessed Mar. 23, 2018: pathology.jhu.edu/pc/basicoverview1.php?area=ba.

Health Research Funding. 2014. 5 interesting facts about the pancreas. Accessed Mar. 23,2018: healthresearchfunding.org/5-interesting-facts-pancreas/.

Howard, J. 2017. History of the pancreas. Accessed Mar. 23, 2018: pancreasclub.com/about/pancreas-history/.

Medicine.net. 2016. Medical definition of islets of Langerhans. Accessed Mar. 23, 2018: medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=4054.

Taylor, T. 2018. Pancreas. Accessed Mar. 23, 2018: innerbody.com/image/endo03.html.

Wharton, D. 2012. Fun fact: Your pancreas has a sweet tooth. Accessed Mar. 23, 2018: giantfreakinrobot.com/sci/fun-fact-pancreas-sweet-tooth.html.


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Joy Keller

Joy Keller is executive editor of IDEA Fitness Journal and IDEA Fit Business Success, and is also a certified personal trainer, indoor cycling instructor, yoga teacher (RYT 200) and Reiki Master.

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