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Enzymes produced in the pancreas are in large part responsible for the digestive process, and there are three main pancreatic digestive enzymes that are excreted in the pancreatic juices. The proteases begin the digestive processes. Fats that are consumed must be broken down in several steps, and the pancreatic digestive enzyme responsible for this process is called pancreatic lipase. Similarly, starches and carbohydrates have to be broken down and are done so by amylase.
There are two different types of proteases, trypsin and chymotrypsin. These two pancreatic digestive enzymes work together and, with aid from the pepsins located in the stomach, they are responsible for beginning the digestive process. After they are created in the pancreas, they are turned into inactive forms called trypsinogen and chymotrypsinogen, which are then released into the small intestine. There, trypsinogen is turned into trypsin when exposed to the intestinal enzyme enterokinase. In turn, the trypsin activates the chymotrypsinogen and turns it back into its active form.
Pancreatic lipase is the pancreatic digestive enzyme that is responsible for breaking fatty triglyceride molecules down into two monoglycerides and two free fatty acids that the body can continue to process. Unable to perform the chemical reaction alone, pancreatic lipase relies on the presence of bile from the liver to aid in the process. One of the enzymes that is delivered to the intestine as part of pancreatic juices, it aids in the body's absorption of fat.
Amylase is one of the pancreatic digestive enzymes that is not produced only by the pancreas. Also present in saliva, blood and urine, it breaks down the compounds in starch to a usable component. There are a number of types of amylase, and each type breaks down starches at a different point in its structure. The amylase produced by the pancreas is known as alpha-amylase to differentiate it from other types.
This digestive enzyme serves another function in the body — to help diagnose pancreatic damage or diseases. Present in small amounts in blood and urine, high levels of amylase in either of these fluids can indicate illnesses such as pancreatitis or inflammation in the salivary glands. Similarly, blood tests for lipase can also diagnose pancreatitis but can also reveal indicators of diseases such as cystic fibrosis, Crohn's disease and celiac disease. Modern medicine has discovered new and reliable uses for the pancreatic digestive enzymes.
Secretions by the pancreas are also essential in maintaining the balance of the digestive system. Bicarbonate is a base that is excreted into the small intestine and works to neutralize the stomach acid that leaks into the intestinal tract. Like other pancreatic digestive enzymes, bicarbonate is created in the pancreatic exocrine cells which also secrete hormones like insulin and glucagon.
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