All You Need to Know about the Pancreas

Anthea Rowan wrote . . . . . . . . .

The pancreas, in the upper part of the abdomen, behind the stomach, is protected by the ribs to the rear. It isn’t a big organ – it’s around half the size of its owner’s hand – but it is a very important one.

“The most important digestive juices don’t come from the stomach, but from the pancreas. People can live without taking any medicine after having their stomach removed, but once the pancreas is gone, replacement enzymes must be given whenever someone eats anything,” says Dr Paul Ng, a Hong Kong-based specialist in gastroenterology and hepatology.

Ng explains that the pancreas is a factory that produces exocrine secretions, known as pancreatic juices, that are released into the gut.

They are mostly enzymes, and include amylase, which digests starch; protease (which digests protein); lipase (which digests fat); DNase (which breaks down DNA); RNase (which does the same for RNA); gelatinase (which breaks down gelatin); and elastase (which breaks down collagen).

The pancreas also performs an endocrine function, delivering important hormones into the bloodstream, including insulin, which lowers blood glucose, and glucagon, which raises it. Insulin forces excess sugar towards muscles and other cells to avoid the damage a sugar overload can cause. Glucagon, on the other hand, is produced when blood sugar is too low, and prompts the liver to release sugars.

It is a clever mechanism – but how does the pancreas know how much insulin to release at a given time and in what amounts? It has taste buds that are similar to those in the tongue. These taste receptors “taste” how sweet foods are and release the appropriate amount of insulin to support a balanced reaction to the resultant glucose.

The word pancreas comes from the Greek, pankreas; pan meaning “all,” and “kreas”, meat. So, pancreas literally translates as “all meat”, which describes its fleshy, rubbery appearance and may explain why in many parts of the world, people consider the pancreases of various animals as valuable.

The Chinese used ground dried pig pancreas as a medicine to treat diabetes more than 2,000 years ago, Ng says. And some cultures value certain animals’ pancreases, usually that of a calf or lamb, and call this culinary treasure sweetbread.

Early physicians could not explain the function of the pancreas and considered it little more than a shock absorber – on account of its rubbery texture and its location: they believed it was there to protect the stomach from the spine.

In the mid-17th century, German anatomist Johann Georg Wirsung established that the pancreas is connected to the duodenum via a small duct; in 1642 he named this the “duct of Wirsung”. Later it became known as the pancreatic duct.

The function of the pancreas was not established until the very late 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century when some extraordinary advances were being made in the field of chemistry.

It was at this point that scientists came to understand that the juices the pancreas produced aided digestion. They realised this digestive ability was based on “ferments” which they noticed were present in these secretions. Today we know those ferments as enzymes.

Slowly it was understood that these enzymes break down food particles into molecules so that they can be absorbed by the intestines – until 1902, it was believed that the brain did that job.

Only in the last century have we begun to understand the pancreas well – and much of that knowledge is thanks to the work of scientists in the first half of the 20th century.

So which illnesses can affect this clever little organ? Pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer, says Ng, who notes that “both can cause severe pain in the stomach region and sometimes back pain.

“Pancreatitis is a nasty condition – it is triggered by any sort of damage to part of the pancreas, which then leads to a leak of pancreatic juice causing the digestion of one’s own body – because, remember, the pancreas has the wherewithal to digest protein, fat, DNA, RNA, collagen and more.”

A person can survive without a pancreas but only, says Dr Ng, with “pancreatic enzyme replacement and insulin injections” to do the jobs it does naturally.

Sometimes, he says, “after a bad episode of acute pancreatitis, or after very prolonged chronic pancreatitis, the pancreas is ‘eaten away’ by the process and becomes absent functionally”. And sometimes the pancreas must be surgically removed – in the case of cancer, for example.

Pancreatic cancer is among the most common types of cancer in both men and woman. There are more than 380 new cases each year in Hong Kong – and around 53,000 in the United States.

The mortality rate of pancreatic cancer is often high. Symptoms may include central or upper abdominal pain, weight loss, jaundice, steatorrhea (fatty stool) or newly developed diabetes. In most patients, symptoms do not appear until later stages of the disease, when it is often too late to treat or control.

Oddly, patients with rarer forms of pancreatic cancer – which account for about 5 per cent of cases and include neuroendocrine tumours (as opposed to the more common adenocarcinomas) – often have a more favourable outlook.

Risk factors for pancreatic cancer include age, being male (it has claimed the lives of, among others Luciano Pavarotti, Steve Jobs, and Patrick Swayze), smoking and a history of obesity and diabetes.

The pancreas, warns Ng, “is not a fan of alcohol: sometimes we see patients die from severe acute pancreatitis after bingeing. Toxins such as certain mushrooms and medicine can also trigger pancreatitis.

“Gallstones sometime get stuck near the pancreas causing pancreatitis, too. Uncontrolled diabetes and high triglyceride blood levels (cholesterol) can cause pancreatitis too.”

This clever, compact organ has a key role to play in your health, so remember to take care of it, too.

Source : SCMP

Baked Fish with Wine and Vegetables Wrapped in Paper


8 oz mixed vegetables, such as asparagus, broccoli, zucchini, sugar snap peas, green beans, or baby carrots
light olive oil, for greasing
2 thick sea bass fillets, about 4-1/2 oz each
2 teaspoons mixed fresh herbs, such as chives, chervil, and dill
1-1/2 tablespoons butter, cut into slices
4 tablespoons dry white wine, such as Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 large pieces of parchment paper, about 11-inch square


  1. Chop the vegetables into large, even-sized pieces.
  2. Lay out 2 pieces of parchment paper one on top of the other and grease the top layer lightly with a few drops of olive oil.
  3. Lay 1 sea bass fillet on top of the paper and surround it with half the vegetables. Sprinkle with half the herbs, dot with half the butter, and season with salt and pepper. Pull up the sides of the foil or parchment paper and add 2 tablespoons wine to the package. Carefully pull the sides together around the fish and vegetables, leaving a space around them, but sealing the package tightly at the top so the juices can’t escape. Repeat to make a second package.
  4. Put the 2 packages on a baking tray and bake in a preheated oven at 425°F for 12 minutes.
  5. Remove the packages from the oven and open them carefully. Transfer the fish and vegetables to 2 warm plates, pour over the juices, and serve immediately.

Makes 2 servings.

Source: Cooking with Wine

In Pictures: Decorative Sushi

Kazari Sushi rolls

A Stretchy Stick-on Patch Can Take Blood Pressure Readings from Deep Inside Your Body

Rachel Metz wrote . . . . . . . . .

The last time you had your blood pressure checked, it was probably at a doctor’s office with a bulky cuff wrapped around your arm. One day soon, perhaps, you will just need a simple stick-on patch on your neck, no bigger than a postage stamp.

That’s the goal of Sheng Xu and his team at the University of California, San Diego, who are working on a patch that can continuously measure someone’s central blood pressure—the pressure of blood coursing beyond your aorta, the artery in your heart that delivers blood to all the different parts of the body. It could make it a lot easier to monitor heart conditions and keep an eye on other vital organs like the liver, lungs, and brain.

The silicon elastomer patch works by sending out ultrasonic waves that penetrate the skin and reflect off the wearer’s tissues and blood. Those reflections are sent back to the sensor, and then to a laptop that processes the blood pressure data (for now, at least, the patch must be wired to a laptop and a power source, too). It is the first known wearable device that can sense deep below the surface of the skin.

In theory, the patch could be used at home to monitor patients over time. And because it’s not inserted into the body, there’s no risk of infection.

A study on Xu and his colleagues’ work, published last week in Nature Biomedical Engineering, found that the patch could continuously and accurately monitor central blood pressure when placed on different parts of the body, though putting it on the neck was most effective. In the study, they compared it to a noninvasive and useful (but hard to operate) device called a tonometer, which places a pressure sensor on the skin; the differences between the two devices’ results were a fraction of what’s considered to be the acceptable range for error with a standard blood pressure device.

It’s also much less invasive than the current gold standard for measuring central blood pressure, which uses a catheter with a sensor on it that’s inserted near the heart. One of the researchers’ next steps is to test their patch against such a catheter to see how it measures up.

The device can provide a lot more information than you can get with a standard blood pressure cuff. This information, Xu believes, can be useful for keeping an eye on patients with conditions like hypertension or a history of heart attack.

“You can’t wear a blood pressure cuff all the time,” he says.

Topol also points out that because the patch can be placed right near the jugular vein, it can measure how much blood is streaming into the heart. That might make it helpful for spotting whether someone is dehydrated, he says.

Not everyone is convinced. Mohan Thanikachalam, a cardiac surgeon at Tufts University, thinks a cuff that monitors peripheral blood pressure is probably still more useful.

“It could turn out that central blood pressure has more predictive value in terms of outcomes in the future, but as of now we don’t have that much data,” he says.

Still, the patch may also have uses beyond the body. Xu, who was one of MIT Technology Review’s 2018 35 Innovators Under 35, believes that such ultrasound patches could also be useful for finding small cracks in complicated mechanical parts, such as those in planes.

Source : MIT Technology Review

Study Warns Many Yogurts Contain Lots of Added Sugar

Rachel Cohen wrote . . . . . . . . .

If you look at the sugar content of some yogurts in the supermarket, you might mistakenly think you’re in the dessert aisle. Yogurt is marketed as a healthy food, but a study published this week in the British Medical Journal is the latest reminder that not all yogurt is created equal.

The researchers surveyed the sugar content of over 900 yogurts in U.K. supermarkets and found that the average amount of sugar across yogurt categories (children’s, organic, flavored, etc.) was well above 10 grams per 100 gram serving. To receive a low-sugar label in the U.K., products cannot have more than 5 grams of sugar per 100 gram serving.

Sugar accounted for the majority of total calories in all but natural or Greek yogurts.

One finding of the study that might come as a surprise to consumers is that organic yogurts were some of the sweetest of all. The median sugar content for organic yogurts was 13.1 grams per 100 gram serving, and some brands had almost 17 grams of sugar per 100 gram serving.

A source of probiotic cultures, protein, calcium, iodine, and vitamin B12, yogurt is frequently recommended as a part of a healthy diet. In fact, studies have shown yogurt consumers have a lower risk of obesity.

So in 2017 when the U.K. government announced the top nine food categories after sodas, juices, and smoothies that contribute to children’s sugar intake, and yogurt made the list, it took Dr. J. Bernadette Moore, an associate professor at the University of Leeds’ School of Food Science and Nutrition, aback.

As a mother she wondered, just how much sugar was she giving her daughter?

“I discovered that for my young daughter’s favorite yogurt, sugar accounted for 60 percent of the calories,” Moore says.

Moore suspects the amount of sugar in yogurt in the U.S. is about the same as in the U.K.

A quick trip down the yogurt aisle of a big U.S. supermarket chain in Los Angeles seems to bear this out. One Yoplait yogurt, marketed with Disney’s popular Frozen characters on it, contains 13 grams of sugar in a 113 gram serving. Chobani Kids had 9 grams of sugar in a 99 gram serving. YoCrunch low-fat yogurt sported 12 grams of sugar in a 113 gram serving, but that number spikes up to 19 grams of sugar if you add the accompanying “mix-ins,” like Oreo cookies or M&M candies.

Yet, the halo effect of yogurt is powerful, and for Moore, this is perhaps the most significant implication of the study.

“What is worrisome is that yogurt, as a perceived ‘healthy food’, may be an unrecognized source of free/added sugars in the diet,” the researchers write.

According to Lindsay Moyer, a Senior Nutritionist at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, consumers may get around 25 percent or more of the WHO’s recommended daily sugar limit for adults (from 25 to 50 grams or less than 10 percent of total energy) from just one serving of yogurt. What is worrying, she says, is that people are often not aware just how much sugar they’re consuming when they eat yogurt.

Most dairy products contain a naturally occurring sugar — lactose — that is included in the total sugar count. That’s less worrisome than added sugar. So how can you tell what kind of sugar you’re getting?

In Greek yogurts, there might be four to six grams of naturally occurring lactose and 8 to 10 grams in non-Greek yogurts. Anything above that is likely added sugar, Moyer says.

What may also help in the U.S. is that by January 2020, most companies will be required to use the Food and Drug Administration’s new nutrition labels, which call out added sugars.The healthiest yogurts, Moyer and Moore agree, are plain, unsweetened yogurts and Greek yogurts.

Moore’s research prompted her to wean her daughter off of sugary, dessert-like yogurts.

“We’ve switched to using natural yogurt and she sweetens it with jam,” Moore says. She recognizes that jam, fruit, honey, and other popular yogurt toppings are sweet, but at least when you’re adding them yourself, she says, you know roughly how much sugar you are consuming.

Source: npr

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