The liver and pancreas are two important organs that perform essential functions in the body. Both organs are present in the upper abdomen and work together to help maintain healthy blood glucose levels.

The liver is the largest solid organ and gland in the body. It carries out many vital tasks, including roles in metabolism, digestion, immunity, and detoxification. The pancreas is another gland organ that produces insulin and other important hormones and enzymes. These organs work together to keep blood sugars within a healthy range.

In this article, we will explore the functions and location of the liver and pancreas and discuss how to keep both organs healthy.

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The liver sits in the right hypochondriac and epigastric regions, which are in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen. It sits below the diaphragm but above the stomach, intestines, and right kidney.

The liver performs over 500 vital functions, including:

  • Producing albumin: This protein helps transport important substances.
  • Producing bile: This fluid helps with digestion.
  • Filtering blood: The liver removes toxins and other harmful substances.
  • Regulating amino acids: This helps with protein production.
  • Supporting blood clotting: Bile helps with this process.
  • Supporting the immune system: The liver destroys pathogens during blood filtration.
  • Storing vitamins and minerals: It can release these when the body requires them.
  • Regulating glucose levels: It does this by storing and releasing sugar.

The pancreas is a long, soft organ present in the upper left abdominal region. It sits below the liver, behind the stomach, and extends from the upper part of the small intestine to the spleen.

The main function of the pancreas is to produce chemicals in the correct quantities to help people digest and process the foods they consume. It has both exocrine and endocrine functions:

Exocrine

This term refers to when a gland creates and releases substances through a duct or opening.

The pancreas produces enzymes, such as trypsin, chymotrypsin, amylase, and lipase, which help break down food. These pancreatic juices release into the pancreatic duct and join the common bile duct, which originates in the liver. The juices then enter the first part of the small intestine, where they begin digesting food.

Endocrine

This term refers to when a gland produces hormones that release directly into the blood and travel to tissues and organs throughout the body.

The endocrine function of the pancreas involves a group of cells known as the islets of Langerhans, or islet cells. These cells create and release important hormones, such as insulin and glucagon, which maintain the balance of blood sugars.

The main relationship between these two organs is the regulation of blood sugars. They also have a structural link and work together to help with digestion.

Blood sugar

The pancreas produces and secretes the hormones insulin and glucagon.

Beta cells in the pancreas produce insulin, which stimulates the uptake of glucose from the blood into cells, lowering a person’s blood sugar. The liver and muscles can either use the glucose for immediate energy or store it as a molecule called glycogen.

Alpha cells in the pancreas produce glucagon, which stimulates cells in the liver and muscles to release glucose, raising a person’s blood sugar.

The liver can both store and produce sugar, depending on the body’s requirements. Insulin and glucagon signal whether the liver needs to store or manufacture glucose. For example, during a meal, the pancreas will secrete insulin and suppress glucagon, causing the liver to store glucose as glycogen.

Alternatively, when blood sugars are low, the liver can convert glycogen into glucose through a process known as glycogenolysis. The liver can also use other substances such as amino acids, waste products, and fat byproducts to produce sugar through a process known as gluconeogenesis.

In situations where blood sugar supplies are low, the body will conserve glucose for the brain, red blood cells, and kidneys. When this occurs, the liver can produce an alternative fuel source from fats, known as ketones, through a process called ketogenesis.

Digestion

The liver and pancreas have a structural connection through ducts. The bile duct and pancreatic duct join at the duodenum, which is the first section of the small intestine.

The bile duct is a tube that passes bile in and out of the liver and forms part of the biliary system. The liver secretes bile, which travels through hepatic ducts and eventually joins the bile duct. The body also stores some bile in the gallbladder. Bile helps with digestion.

The pancreas secretes pancreatic enzymes, which flow through the pancreatic ducts to the duodenum. These pancreatic juices also help aid digestion by breaking down fats, proteins, and carbohydrates.

As both the liver and pancreas play important roles in the human body, it is vital that people attempt to keep these organs healthy.

Some suggestions for maintaining liver health may include:

  • maintaining a moderate weight
  • consuming a healthy, varied diet
  • exercising regularly
  • avoiding alcohol or drinking only in moderation
  • avoiding illegal drugs and toxins
  • receiving vaccinations for conditions such as hepatitis

Tips for a healthy pancreas are largely similar. If a person is experiencing inflammation of the pancreas, known as pancreatitis, a doctor may advise them to try a pancreatitis diet.

This nutritional plan emphasizes:

  • consuming fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, and whole grains
  • eating lean meats
  • including medium-chain triglycerides, a type of fat
  • avoiding alcohol, fried foods, high fat foods, and refined carbohydrates

Click here to learn more about the pancreatitis diet.

The liver and pancreas are two important organs present in the abdominal area. They perform several vital bodily functions and work closely together to help regulate blood sugar.

They also play an important role in digestion. It is advisable to maintain a moderate weight, exercise regularly, and consume a healthy and varied diet to keep both organs healthy.