Pancreas, The Underdog of Organs…

Alright, so obviously I write about Diabetes a fair bit as I have been a Type 1 Diabetic since 1982. But here’s the reality: as of 2017, 1 out of every 16 Canadians have been diagnosed with some form of Diabetes (Type 1 or Type 2), which comes out at about 6% of the Canadian population. This is an increase from 1 out of every 32 Canadians back in 1982 when I was diagnosed.

The pancreas, responsible for the human body’s production of natural insulin.

But how much do we actually know about this organ? It sits just below the liver and behind the stomach. It’s usually about 6 inches long, depending on the person and it has many functions outside of insulin production. When you hear a Type 1 Diabetic state that their Pancreas is dead or doesn’t function, they couldn’t be more wrong.

The pancreas helps to aid in the digestion process by excreting certain enzymes. Besides producing insulin (if the gland is healthy), it plays an important role in overall digestion and helps with the break down of cholesterol.

When blood sugars drop dramatically, the pancreas releases a hormone called glucagon, which helps the liver break down glycogen into glucose to help elevate blood sugar. The only time this is trumped is when a Diabetic consumes heavy quantities of alcohol, which occupies the liver as such that it cannot break down the aforementioned glycogen. This is why Type 1 Diabetics have a sudden drop in blood glucose.

The actual issue that causes Type 1 Diabetes includes the body’s own immune system attacking the beta cells in the pancreas so that it can no longer produce insulin. So it isn’t so much that the gland isn’t functioning properly, it’s that one’s own body destroy’s the pancreas’ ability to maintain a proper insulin level.

Although the pancreas’ two primary functions include an exocrine function to help with digestion and an endocrine function that helps to take care of blood glucose levels (which is what leads to Diabetes), there are a number of functions that the pancreas performs that are normally behind the scenes.

So don’t despair, dear Diabetics! Your slim, 6-inch gland does have SOME use (pun fully intended). I’d like to thank my friend and colleague, Daryl, for providing the inspiration for this post. He provided the idea for me to write about the pancreas and it’s many functions outside of insulin production. Many thanks, Daryl! ☯

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Breathe. Just… Breathe…

The human body is an amazing machine. At any given time, there are dozens of functions and processes taking place that are not visible or obvious. Some involuntary or automatic.

For example, your body has an involuntary system that keeps you from wetting your underoos anytime you have more than a few sips of your morning coffee. Once your bladder is full, the involuntary system releases and that’s where your voluntary system takes over and you need to hold yourself in order to prevent living your worst high school nightmare and creating a puddle in public!

That’s only one example, but just imagine everything that happens inside of you that you’re not aware of. One of the most important involuntary functions your body performs is breathing.

Think about it! You breathe constantly, all day and all night. You don’t think about it at all. Ever since your doctor smacked your butt and started you crying, you’ve been drawing breath.

We breathe because we require oxygen to enter our blood cells and help break down glucose and sugar, which we then expel as carbon dioxide. When we exercise, our respiration rate increases because we use our muscles and require more oxygen in the blood. Our heart rate increases along with our respiration to help pump the oxygen rich blood through our system.

Breathing can be both voluntary and involuntary. When doing the martial arts, we’ve been taught to do specialized breathing that helps control the flow of oxygen when executing a technique or doing forms. We control our breathing.

For folks in law enforcement and emergency response, tactical breathing helps to calm a person and lower their heart rate, making it easier to maintain control of a situation and properly assess things. When you panic, your breathing shallows and increases your heart rate. This is because shallow and rapid breathing reduces the amount of carbon dioxide and your body is trying to enrich your blood with as much oxygen as possible.

Why is this important? Well, from a Diabetes standpoint, we start to breathe rapidly when we experience hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). This is because the lowered amount of glucose in our blood makes it difficult to produce enough cell energy, and your body thinks it needs more oxygen.

From a martial arts or fitness standpoint, controlling your breathing will allow you to keep a cool head and control the situation you may be facing. It will also help improve your level of training. By properly exhaling during strikes or techniques, you help to properly expel carbon dioxide and this will help to prevent muscle fatigue during actual combat.

Pretty cool, right? All that is happening, just based on how you breathe. With all the things left to discover in the world, it can often be humbling to realize there will always be so much about our own bodies we don’t know.

So, keep on breathing… Actually, you don’t have a choice! But proper breathing exercises and meditation can go a long way towards helping with everything I’ve mentioned above. ☯

When Diabetics Get High… (but not the way you think)

Type 1 Diabetes is a constant battle. It involves frequent blood glucose testing, insulin injections and/or oral medications as well as tightly controlled diets and exercise regimes. At least, it does if you want to maintain some modicum of control or perhaps maintain your overall health.

Only some of the tools used in the daily life of a Type 1 Diabetic

Type 1 Diabetes tends to shorten your lifespan. In 2012, the University of Pittsburgh published an article containing the results of a 30 year study that revealed that Diabetes can shorten the average lifespan by over 20 years! Through my own studies, I’ve always heard 10 to 15 years was the more accurate prediction. But once again, this all depends on the person’s overall health and willingness to maintain some control.

The takeaway from this study is simply that one’s life is shortened by Type 1 Diabetes. This can be for a number of reason, including but not limited to Diabetic complications, lack of health or poor control.

Technology has come a truly long way in making my life easier. When I was first diagnosed in 1982, my blood testing machine was roughly the size of a brick and it took a five-minute process to test. I had multiple injections that were required every day, starting first thing in the morning. Nowadays, I wear an insulin pump that takes away most of the guess work and deals with proper insulin distribution. I now take one needle every three days as opposed to a minimum of three EVERY day.

A comparison of my first glucometer from 1982 to the one I currently use today!

But before I start rambling, the purpose of today’s blog is to discuss what to do when you come across someone who appears to be having a hypoglycaemic or hyperglycaemic episode (low and high blood sugar, respectively).

Bearing in mind that I’m not a doctor, I’m passing on advice based on what I’ve come to learn over 36 years of being a Type 1 Diabetic. So take this advice with grain of salt as I am a big fan of making it clear that every person is different.

Most people will tell you that their medical status is private and doesn’t need to be shared with anyone. Although this is true as far as a person’s basic rights go, it’s also incredibly irresponsible. When it comes to one’s health and well-being, I’ve always had a policy that the sharing of pertinent information can be important and could potentially save your life.

One of the first steps I always take whenever I get a new supervisor, boss or employer is advise them that I am a Type 1 Diabetic. This is important, as it can go a long way towards letting your employers know the hows and whys when issues arise. It doesn’t mean you need to shout it out to everyone you work with, necessarily. But it can help prevent issues down the road.

I also take this step with any sporting or fitness clubs I join. This is almost more important, since excessive exercising can lead to blood sugar extremes. When I last joined a weight gym and had a membership, I had the owner put a note on my electronic membership file indicating I was Diabetic. That way, if something ever happened while I was training, the staff would be in a position to tell medical personnel about it.

Outside of taking these preliminary steps, here is what I tell everybody in relation to helping me treat any outstanding issues: either I’m conscious or I’m not! If I’m conscious I’ll be able to take steps, such as testing my blood and taking the appropriate steps including eating some fast-acting glucose. If the person is unconscious, please, PLEASE, don’t try to feed them or administer insulin! You could aggravate the situation or send them spiralling in the opposite direction. Either the person will be able to administer what he or she needs on their own, or you should be calling 911 for medical assistance.

Jellybeans or Skittles are my preferred choice for treating lows, as they’re essentially fat-free and are about 1 gram of carbs per bean!

Through the years, I’ve heard some medical professionals say that if you find an unconscious Diabetic, try and feed them some juice or something of the sort. That way, if they’re too low it will bring them up and potentially save their lives. If they’re too high, medical professionals can deal with that once they arrive. The problem I have with that is simply that if the person is already too high, you risk throwing them into a Diabetic coma, the outcome of which is not pleasant. Plus, you’re dealing with the potential issue of trying to feed something to someone unconscious. And what if the person’s current situation is not related to Diabetes? You could be adding one more layer on top of the issue.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to communication. Be willing to communicate and speak with the important people in your life and let them know what YOU need. Only you will truly know what is required to treat your current blood sugar levels and help you get better. ☯

Crack A Cold One For These Boozy Facts…

I’ve covered coffee and green tea in previous posts (the green tea thing is going fantastic, by the way!) So today, I’ll be covering a beverage type most people don’t consider as having health benefits: alcohol.

Yes, you read that right. In certain circumstances, alcohol can lend a number of health benefits (when it doesn’t include getting black-out drunk).

When one drinks in moderation, and just to be clear, moderation means no more than about two drinks a day, here are some of the benefits:

It can lower the risk for heart disease. Moderate alcohol can help increase the amount of “good cholesterol”, help improve insulin resistance and can help prevent certain blood clots.

It can improve your libido! Although there’s a lot more study to be done on this subject, some results have shown that alcohol can help prevent erectile dysfunction. And I don’t know about you guys (pun fully intended) but this is an important detail. Again, this is based on extremely moderate consumption.

Alcohol can help prevent dementia and reduce the chance of gallstones. Studies have shown that small amounts of alcohol can help make brain cells more fit. I’m not certain how one would measure the reduction in chance of developing gallstones. I mean, maybe you’re just someone who doesn’t develop them, right? But then again, that’s why I’m not a scientist.

It’s also been shown to reduce the chance of developing Type 2 Diabetes. This is apparently linked to healthy lifestyle choices used in conjunction with moderate consumption, of course. But while we’re on the subject of Diabetes and alcohol consumption, let’s talk about carbohydrates.

Obviously, carb counting becomes extremely important to insulin-dependant Diabetics. With that in mind, just about any pure spirit is carb free. For example, whiskey and tequila are actually carb free. As long as you don’t mix your drink with sugared alcohol or juice, you should be good to go. Unfortunately, just about all blends of beer are heavy on the carbohydrates. You know, hops and yeast and all that…

Frequent or heavy use of alcohol can LEAD to several health complications and a bunch of inconvenient things like weight gain and addiction. So be sure to drink in moderation and check your blood sugars frequently while consuming. Alcohol can keep your liver so occupied that it forgets to release glycol and your levels can drop quickly.

You can visit the Mayo Clinic’s website to read further about the benefits and complications of alcohol consumption. Here’s the link: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/alcohol/art-20044551

On The Road To Enlightenment…

I’ve had people ask about how I came about studying Buddhism. The question makes sense; a French-speaking white male living on the Northern shore of New Brunswick wouldn’t necessarily have a great deal of exposure to eastern religions.

I guess it all kind of started in the mid to late 1980’s. Although I hadn’t become entrenched in the martial arts by this point, my religious beliefs would feed off of my martial arts and vice versa, in the years to come. I had already become an avid reader and would pick up any book or manuscript I could get my hands on and read it. My father, in an attempt to steer me away from my grandmother’s medical text books (he felt they were inappropriate for a kid) started trying to find “cool things” for me to read.

Sometime in 1987, my father found a copy of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and provided the manuscript to me in plain text format on a 3.5 inch floppy disk (I realize how old that makes me sound, and you new age kids can Google “floppy disk” if you don’t understand). It was slow reading, especially since there was only one computer in the house and I had to wait for my father to be gone to work to get a turn.

Without getting into details, the Tibetan Book of the Dead is the western title given to one of the three main manuscripts in Buddhism. It basically describes the transitional period in which a person exists between the death of one life and the beginning of another. There’s more to it than that, but that’s the gist. It was intense and fascinating reading, and I don’t think that my father knew exactly what it was that he had given me. It started me on a path of self-study that I am still entranced with to this day.

To explain how Buddhism gained some roots within my own life, it’s important that I explain a little bit about my family’s religious beliefs. This is not to shine a negative light on anyone’s chosen faith, but my entire family on my mother’s side was intensely religious. In fact, most of my grandmother’s siblings had studied the seminary and most had become nuns. Since my mother had also gone to seminary school, the Catholic faith had deep roots on my mother’s side and I was made to attend church twice, sometimes more, a week. Although teaching your family’s beliefs to the next generation is important, I would come to believe that a traditional church service holds no interest for a young child and can in fact get quite boring. In recent years, some churches offer child programs that allow for the teaching of their faith in a forum where young children are distracted and enjoy the experience. This was not so, for me.

By the time I had reached my pre-teens, my mother gave me the choice as to whether I would attend church or not. And like most children who are given the choice, since I had been forced through it for most of my life, I chose to walk away from it.

By the time the very late 1980’s came along, my health had waned to the point where I was facing death (I’ve written about this in previous posts, if you want to check out that story). Once I began my martial arts training, I began to learn more about Buddhism, Taoism and Zen. One began to feed of the other and I began to actively seek out Buddhist texts and study in greater detail. The more I read, the more I came to feel that the Buddhist faith reflected much more of my personality than my family’s religious faiths (I pluralize that, because my father is actually not Catholic).

My Sensei was a big help, since certain Zen precepts are very dominant in karate. What I study is called Zen Buddhism, a sect of Buddhism that originated in China but built roots as a Japanese form of Buddhism focusing on meditation and intuition. Based on Mahayana Buddhism, it combines aspects of Zen and Taoism. Although there are obviously far too many details about it to draft in a blog post, the Buddhist faith has helped me through the decades by encouraging self-motivation, increased health, focus and concentration and acceptance of all other religious beliefs.

Although my studies were akin to a starving person in front of a buffet, most studies were done on my own. In October of 2001 I travelled to Japan with my Sensei, and had the opportunity to visit a number of Buddhist temples, including temples in Narita and Tokyo. I made friends with a number of the monks in Narita and was invited to stay and become a monk myself.

I was caught in a dilemma. Although their peaceful way of life and quiet study appealed to me, I didn’t know how survival would be possible, being a Type 1 Diabetic. The monks explained that they normally used monetary donations as a means to obtain medical supplies for monks who required them. The monastery would provide my insulin in exchange for joining them.

I could have stayed. A part of me wishes I had stayed. But I came to two realizations that night as I was trying to make my decision. The first thing I realized is that the world keeps on turning. Even if I hide within the walls of a monastery, how am I genuinely promoting peace if I’m hidden from the world? Would I be contributing in a way that would satisfy me and make me feel as though I’ve done my part? The answer was certainly no!

The second thing I realized is how embarrassing it would be to have my mother hop an international flight to drag me back to Canada by my ear! Being an only child, there was no way in hell she would have allowed me to join a monastery on the other side of the world!

But there you have it. I often wonder if my path would have been the same if my father hadn’t provided me with that first manuscript. Maybe so. But as much as I would like to say it all happened by accident, it likely wasn’t. As Jean de la Fontaine said, we most often find our destiny on the road we least thought to travel.

No Matter How Much You Love Your Donut, It’ll Never Love You Back…

It almost seems as though they come out with some new fad diet every year. And with every new fad, people are subjected to different angles to trying to lose weight. Some involve cutting out carbohydrates (which is a really dumb idea since it’s our source of fuel), some involve trying to eat like our paleolithic ancestors (which is also another ridiculous concept, since our digestive systems have evolved WAY beyond what our ancestors had) and some involve eating nothing but vegetation (probably my biggest pet peeve, since the human digestive tract is designed to be omnivorous).

The bottom line is that it’s more the fact of what you eat than how much you eat. And also HOW you eat. After all, every person is different and the amount of food you require depends on age, fitness levels, overall health and a score of other factors.

For example, a man of my age, fitness level and size require almost 3,000 calories a day. My wife requires about 1,800 calories and my son would only need somewhere in the range of 1,000 to 1,400 calories (although I swear to the light that his energy level dictates he consumes SOOOO much more!).

Fad diets won’t help you lose weight. I mean, they might… But it severely depends on how you manage your lifestyle in tandem with the diet. Make sure that you consult your health practitioner prior to starting any diet regiment that seriously alters your eating habits from what you’re used to. Combine it with a healthy exercise schedule and watch for any change in your body’s behaviour that may be an issue (chest pains, random sweating, light headedness, etc…)

Last but not least, listen to your body. Dieting shouldn’t leave your stomach grumbling several times a day. If you’re constantly hungry, it’s a sure sign that your body is telling you that you need to eat more.

My Tea Is Green With Envy…

First and foremost, let me clarify that I drink about 3 to 4 litres of water a day. Between my fitness regiment and the facts I have Diabetes, water plays an integral role in my daily routine. But I do have an affinity for tea, and green tea is especially high on the list (with orange blossom and cinnamon being my top choice).

There’s a lot of attention being given to tea. Specifically, green tea. Studies have shown that green tea has a surprising amount of positive effects on the body. Most recently, I read about how drinking at least 5 cups of green tea a day can help in losing weight, most of it in the belly. Since Type 1 Diabetics have difficulty losing weight in the gut due to insulin use, this would be fantastic. True, there are no hard and fast beverages that melt off the fat for you. And it becomes most important to pair your tea consumption with other healthy habits, such as limiting your alcohol intake, eating well and exercising regularly.

Some of the health benefits include, but are not limited to improving blood flow and lowering cholesterol, aiding with blood sugar control and contains a number of antioxidants. These are just to name a few, and the studies are still happening as we speak.

One important benefit is the relaxing routine that comes with consuming tea. In fact, most Buddhist monasteries include the consumption of tea as part of the morning routine, as we believe that it helps with the cultivation of body and mind. It isn’t always necessarily green tea, but it usually involves a similar blend. Green tea has also been used in traditional and holistic medicine for next to forever.

I’ll be trying the whole “5 cups a day” thing for the next little while. In addition to how I’ve been killing myself on a bicycle lately, we’ll see if it does help to trim the gut a touch. I’ll also be watching my blood sugar levels to see what effect it may have. I’ll be providing updates as I go along.

My “short” little bike ride tonight…

So grab yourself a cup of green… When preparing your tea, it is recommended not to use boiling water as it can be damaging to some of the good stuff in the tea. Hot but not boiling water is best, and remove the tea bag once it has achieved the desired strength.

Some good articles that cover the material I’ve written on and more include WebMD (in case y’all haven’t noticed, I’m a big fan of this page) and MedicalNewsToday.com. These articles can be read at https://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/health-benefits-of-green-tea#2 and https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/269538.php respectively.

Enjoy!