Pancreas + Kidneys = ?

31 years ago, my father died of pancreatic cancer. For some reason, I remember him asking me what electrolytes were as soon as he was diagnosed. I didn’t know. I do now, but I don’t know if there’s a connection between the pancreas and the kidneys. Of course, I mean other than the fact that they are all organs in your body.

Oh, sorry, I didn’t give you the definition. This is from Healthline at https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/electrolytes  :

“’Electrolyte’ is the umbrella term for particles that carry a positive or negative electric charge ….

In nutrition, the term refers to essential minerals found in your blood, sweat and urine.

When these minerals dissolve in a fluid, they form electrolytes — positive or negative ions used in metabolic processes.

Electrolytes found in your body include:

  • Sodium
  • Potassium
  • Chloride
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Phosphate
  • Bicarbonate

These electrolytes are required for various bodily processes, including proper nerve and muscle function, maintaining acid-base balance and keeping you hydrated.”

Ummm, you have Chronic Kidney Disease. These are the electrolytes you need to keep an eye on, especially sodium, potassium, and phosphate. But why did Dad ask me about them?

I plunged right in to find the answer and immediately found a journal article… on a pay site. Not being one to pay for what can be found for free (and is 30 years old, by the way), I decided to look for as much information on the pancreas as I could find and see what we could figure out together.

Let’s start at the beginning. According to the Sol Goldman Pancreatic Cancer Research Center of Johns Hopkins Medicine – Pathology at http://pathology.jhu.edu/pc/basicoverview1.php?area=ba:

“What is the pancreas?

The pancreas is a long flattened gland located deep in the belly (abdomen). Because the pancreas isn’t seen or felt in our day to day lives, most people don’t know as much about the pancreas as they do about other parts of their bodies. The pancreas is, however, a vital part of the digestive system and a critical controller of blood sugar levels.

Where is the pancreas?

The pancreas is located deep in the abdomen. Part of the pancreas is sandwiched between the stomach and the spine. The other part is nestled in the curve of the duodenum (first part of the small intestine). To visualize the position of the pancreas, try this: touch your right thumb and right ‘pinkie’ fingers together, keeping the other three fingers together and straight. Then, place your hand in the center of your belly just below your lower ribs with your fingers pointing to your left. Your hand will be the approximate shape and at the approximate level of your pancreas.”

I tried that. It’s not as easy as it sounds.

So now we sort of know what and where it is, but what does it do? No problem, Columbia University Irving Medical Center has just the info we need at http://columbiasurgery.org/pancreas/pancreas-and-its-functions:

“Exocrine Function:

The pancreas contains exocrine glands that produce enzymes important to digestion. These enzymes include trypsin and chymotrypsin to digest proteins; amylase for the digestion of carbohydrates; and lipase to break down fats. When food enters the stomach, these pancreatic juices are released into a system of ducts that culminate in the main pancreatic duct. The pancreatic duct joins the common bile duct to form the ampulla of Vater which is located at the first portion of the small intestine, called the duodenum. The common bile duct originates in the liver and the gallbladder and produces another important digestive juice called bile. The pancreatic juices and bile that are released into the duodenum, help the body to digest fats, carbohydrates, and proteins.

Endocrine Function:

The endocrine component of the pancreas consists of islet cells (islets of Langerhans) that create and release important hormones directly into the bloodstream. Two of the main pancreatic hormones are insulin, which acts to lower blood sugar, and glucagon, which acts to raise blood sugar. Maintaining proper blood sugar levels is crucial to the functioning of key organs including the brain, liver, and kidneys.”

The kidneys? Now it’s starting to make sense. We need whatever specific electrolyte balance our lab work tells us we need to keep our kidneys working in good stead and we need a well-functioning pancreas to regulate our blood sugars. Hmmm, diabetes is one of the two leading causes of CKD. It seems the pancreas controls diabetes since it creates insulin.

What could happen if the pancreas wasn’t doing its job, I wondered.  This is from the Mayo Clinic at https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pancreatitis/symptoms-causes/syc-20360227,

“Pancreatitis [Me here: that’s an inflammation of the pancreas] can cause serious complications, including:

  • Pseudocyst. Acute pancreatitis can cause fluid and debris to collect in cystlike pockets in your pancreas. A large pseudocyst that ruptures can cause complications such as internal bleeding and infection.
  • Infection. Acute pancreatitis can make your pancreas vulnerable to bacteria and infection. Pancreatic infections are serious and require intensive treatment, such as surgery to remove the infected tissue.
  • Kidney failure. Acute pancreatitis may cause kidney failure, which can be treated with dialysis if the kidney failure is severe and persistent.
  • Breathing problems. Acute pancreatitis can cause chemical changes in your body that affect your lung function, causing the level of oxygen in your blood to fall to dangerously low levels.
  • Diabetes. Damage to insulin-producing cells in your pancreas from chronic pancreatitis can lead to diabetes, a disease that affects the way your body uses blood sugar.
  • Malnutrition. Both acute and chronic pancreatitis can cause your pancreas to produce fewer of the enzymes that are needed to break down and process nutrients from the food you eat. This can lead to malnutrition, diarrhea and weight loss, even though you may be eating the same foods or the same amount of food.
  • Pancreatic cancer. Long-standing inflammation in your pancreas caused by chronic pancreatitis is a risk factor for developing pancreatic cancer.

Did you catch kidney failure and diabetes? I believe we now know how the kidneys and pancreas are related to each other. Ah, if only I’d known how to research 31 years ago….

Until next week,

Keep living your life!