The pancreas is an endocrine and exocrine gland. An exocrine gland is an organ that makes and releases chemicals into ducts, rather than into the blood stream like endocrine glands.
As an endocrine gland, the main function of the pancreas is to make hormones that control blood sugar levels. These hormones are made in clusters of cells called ‘islets of Langerhans’.
Keeping blood sugar levels stable is important to provide a constant energy supply to the body. Low blood sugar levels can cause sweating, shaking, mood changes, confusion and in severe cases seizures and loss of consciousness. Persistently high blood sugar levels are a feature of diabetes mellitus.
The remaining area of the pancreas has exocrine functions, producing chemicals (enzymes) that help digest food. These enzymes are transported through a small duct from the pancreas to the small intestine. These enzymes help break down proteins, carbohydrates and fats in food.