The pancreas is a gland lying crosswise in the abdomen, just below the liver. It is an important organ because it makes the juices, or enzymes, that help to digest the foods we eat. The pancreas also has special cells that manufacture insulin, a substance that allows the body to use the sugar we have eaten for the production of energy.
The three main juices manufactured by the pancreas are called Trysin, lipase, and amylase. Trysin helps to digest proteins, including the meat, fish, and chicken we eat as well as protein found in milk, cheese, and other foods. Lipase helps to digest the fat we have eaten, and amylase is necessary for the digestion of sugar.
The juices of the pancreas reach the small intestines through a special duct, or hollow tube, that runs through the middle of the pancreas. This is called the pancreatic duct, and has one large and one small opening into the small intestines. Without these pancreatic juices, we could not digest our foods properly, and they might pass through the intestines without being absorbed into our bloodstream. Then we would be thin and undernourished and would not grow properly.
The insulin produced by the pancreas does not go through the pancreatic duct into the intestines. Instead, it is absorbed directly into the blood¬stream where it acts, along with oxygen, to turn the sugar we have absorbed into energy. You know, don’t you, that physical activity burns up a great amount of sugar? Well, if you didn’t have enough insulin, you would not have much energy and there would be too much sugar in your blood. That condition is known as diabetes, and sometimes it affects children. However, there isn’t too much to worry about, because 999 out of 1,000 children do not have diabetes.
Every so often-about once in 2,000 births-a child is born with a condition called cystic fibrosis. In this condition the pancreas, along with several other organs, doesn’t perform the way it should and fails to secrete enough lipase, amylase, and trypsin into the intestines. As a result, a child with cystic fibrosis will not digest food properly and therefore won’t grow the way he should. Also, because his bronchial tubes don’t function properly, he may get infections in his lungs. Children with this illness usually take antibiotics regularly every day, just as they take food every day, in order to protect them from infections.