Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Wisdom Wednesday: The Pancreas

The pancreas is the last organ in the endocrine system that we evaluate. We began with the endocrine system as a whole – adrenal, pineal/pituitary, thyroid, and reproduction. Then we looked at hidden adrenal issues. Last week we reviewed liver function; now finally, the pancreas.

The head of the pancreas secretes digestive enzymes. Digestion will be discussed next week. The tail of the pancreas secretes insulin and other hormones. Insulin binds to glucose in the blood stream and facilitates entry to most cells of the body.

Over the course of our lives, most of us become insulin resistant. Excess refined carbohydrates and just eating too much in general tax the system. Insulin receptors in the cells of the body become less responsive to insulin so the pancreas must produce ever increasing quantities of insulin to force sugar into the cells. This is early stage Type II Diabetes.

Eventually, the pancreas just wears out, insulin production falls and the body becomes dependent on insulin injections to maintain some semblance of glucose control.

There are four tissues that do not require insulin to absorb glucose – the small capillaries, the kidneys, the nervous system and the eyes. These tissues are saturated with excess glucose for years prior to the diagnosis of diabetes. The result is progressive degeneration of these tissues resulting in neuropathy, blindness, amputation of the lower extremities, kidney failure, and ultimately death.

It is estimated that by the year 2050, 50% of the US population will be diabetic. Diabetes is an epidemic that is preventable and often reversible just by making good choices in diet and exercise.

When evaluating the pancreas, we correlate function with the remainder of the endocrine system. Sometimes pancreas dysfunction is secondary to an adrenal issue or a thyroid problem. However, most commonly, the problem begins with general inflammation.

When the body is inflamed, from just about any cause, it produces arachidonic acid. This most frequently results in the production of prostaglandins (PG2), primarily from the liver. (Please review my first Wednesday Wisdom blog on QA evaluation, “Inflammation – part 1”, posted on March 19, 2014) Adequate intake of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids should produce PG3 and PG1 respectively, which counterbalance the inflammation from PG2. However, early on in insulin resistance, the conversion of healthy omega 6 fatty acids from the diet is shunted into the arachidonic acid pathway creating more inflammation rather than less.

Supplementation with sesame seed oil prevents this shunting and restores the omega 6 to PG1 pathway. This simple change in body chemistry often dramatically improves glucose metabolism, even in drug dependent diabetics.

In resistant cases, the herb Gymnema can be most effective. Gymnema actually helps restore the beta cells of the pancreas that secrete insulin. In Ayurvedic medicine, Gymnema means “sugar destroyer”. For thousands of years, it has been used to eliminate the sickly sweet smell of urine produced when diabetics spill glucose into the urine in an attempt to reduce blood levels.

If you are not yet diabetic, the odds are quite good that you will become one. Have your glycohemoglobin A1c checked yearly. It will detect problems in glucose metabolism years before the fasting glucose is out of control and the diagnosis of diabetes is given. Maintain a regime of regular exercise and reduce the refined carbohydrates in your diet.

If you have a blood sugar issue, no matter how advanced, consult with a qualified nutritionist. The damage begins long before you are aware you have a problem. However, it can be reversed with proper guidance.