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! ☯


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. ☯

Energy Drinks, Yay Or Nay…

Most people who know me are aware that I’m a firm advocate of energy drinks. Over the past fifteen years, there has been a lot of press relating to the pros and cons of energy drinks and their effects on the body.

Most energy drinks found at your local corner convenience store offer a variety of benefits. Multiple B-vitamins, which can help your cardiovascular, nervous and digestive systems, mild relief from arthritis symptoms and muscle cramps. Obviously, caffeine and taurine, which can provide benefits in multiple different areas of the body.

But what about the cons? Excessive caffeine use has been linked to headaches, insomnia, nervousness and jitters, to name a few… An article posted by the Mayo Clinic indicates that the average adult can safely consume approximately 400 milligrams of caffeine in a day. That is the equivalent of about four medium coffees or about three 473 mL cans of energy drink.

I’m not certain what the effect would be in drinking 400 milligrams of caffeine in one sitting, but I can’t imagine it would be good. And although this amount is reasonably safe for adults, children and even teenagers should avoid caffeine consumption.

One of the worst side effects of energy drinks is that it can become addictive. Believe me. Up until recently, I would start my morning with a full can of energy drink. By mid-afternoon I would need a second can, otherwise the headaches and exhaustion would set in. I tapered off and worked my way off of energy drinks. You may recall that in a previous post, I indicated that I was starting a green tea regime to replace this addiction. Its been going well by the way, thanks for asking!

Another thing to consider is that unless you’re purchasing a sugar-free energy drink, you’re consuming an OBSCENE amount of sugar and/or carbohydrates with every can. About 27 grams of sugar per can, to be exact! This is simply the average, but it’s still comparable to a can of Coke.

Excessive caffeine is also a diuretic, and will cause dehydration during exercise. This is why energy drinks are not ideal as a workout drink. A thorough workout will dehydrate you enough without adding an external diuretic into the mix!

Are energy drinks bad? I don’t think so. But I also believe they have their place in the grand scheme of things. Remember that moderation is key and if you get to the point that you need them to get your day going, it may be time to taper off. ☯

Do It Properly, Not Easily…

Martial arts is a special creature. I may or may not have written that, a time or two in previous posts. But it is. It’s one of the only things in the western world that combines, sport, fitness, art and mysticism bordering on the religious. It combines aspects of discipline and repetition to encourage a student’s self-confidence and growth.

However, it doesn’t. It really doesn’t. Encourage it, that is. From my experience, only about one in every 8 to 10 students will put in the raw effort and will to gain the experience and growth required to excel in the martial arts. All the fun stuff I described in the previous paragraph needs to be sought out and worked for. It doesn’t happen simply by walking into a dojo and following along.

I’ve seen too many students who attend class after class. I mean, their attendance is almost flawless (minus the ones who are “forced” there by parents, of course) but the effort they put into the classes is almost laughable.

Now, before anyone gets too high and mighty with me, I understand that every student is different; their needs are different and their wants are different. And I’ve met students who have joined the martial arts for many different reasons. Some people join to get in shape, some to learn to defend themselves… Some actually join simply for the social aspect of meeting others and being a part of something. No matter the reason, it IS important to you.

Sweat is the fuel in the forge of progress!

I frequently train at the rear of the class. I’ve long been a believer that a teacher can learn more by watching the students than standing at the front. And these days, I see so many students who phone it in while standing in class. Sometimes it’s easy to put in a minimum effort while the head instructor is busy monitoring so many students. But why be there if not to get the maximum return on your physical and spiritual investment?

Train from your soul! Give it everything you’ve got. When you train, take a look at the other students around you. Within twenty minutes, there should be a puddle of sweat at your feet. If there isn’t, then you aren’t putting your entire being into your training.

You can be in it for your own reasons. Just make sure that while they’re your reasons, they’re still the right ones! ☯

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. ☯

Why Having That Six Pack Is Bad For You… (And I Don’t Mean Beer!)

Listen, I know what you’re thinking. Having six pack abs is a trademark sign of someone who’s in shape, right? Maybe not. Trust me, I’d love to have a ripped midriff like the dudes we see in the movies. But there are actually a lot of reasons why a person shouldn’t.

Most genuine fitness gurus will agree that there are a number of health issues caused by training to get six pack abs. First and foremost, the type of fitness regime required to get and maintain ripped abs is ultimately unhealthy. The amount of work and effort required, combined with a stricter than strict diet, takes a toll on a person.

Although the current desired social aesthetic, ripped abs can cause all sorts of health issues.

The reality is that there is nothing wrong with developing those abdominal muscles. In fact, most people who exercise regularly will develop them regardless of their look. It’s making them visible that causes the issues.

You see, in order to have those nice, ripped abs, you need to lower your body fat percentage below what is recommended as healthy. It can cause all sorts of issues such as weakened immune system, hormone imbalances and bad structural support system for the body. Ultimately, we aren’t designed to have ripped abs.

Health issues in women can be even worse

Often, athletes who strive to get six pack abs will ignore or forego other important muscles groups in order to get that chiseled look. This means that as much as it’s the current social standard for someone who is in shape, having ripped abs in no way designates someone as necessarily being in good or proper shape.

The whole thing actually becomes worse for females, whose bodies are inherently designed for childbirth and serious damage can be caused to those reproductive systems while striving for ripped abs.

Men’s Journal actually put out a decent e-article about it and it can be read at

In the martial arts world, the Okinawans believe that the soul is contained in the hara, what is known in some circles as the chi. having just an ever so slight belly means you’re soul is properly balanced. They generally frown upon having ripped abs.

At the end of the day, there are a number of better, healthier ways to get into proper shape. And although there’s nothing wrong with slimming down your mid-section (in fact, SOME weight loss can lead to better overall health) getting those oily six-pack abs everyone in the movies flaunt isn’t the way to go. ☯

The Bigger Person Won’t Always Strike…

The world is a volatile place. It always has been. Violence is a predominant trait of humanity and has always had a presence within society. We simply hear more about it during modern times, thanks to mainstream and social media and the availability of the world’s information at our fingertips, courtesy of the internet.

But is it necessary? Civil rights leader Mahatma Gandhi once said: “I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.”

People have often asked me how I manage to consolidate the violence within my own life. Some often assume violence is dominant within me. Given my line of work (which I’ve always made a point not to specify on this blog, perhaps someday you’ll know why) and a lifetime martial artist, it can often be presumed that I have a penchant for violence.

And let’s be clear: every person is capable of violence. You don’t need a black belt or a weapon to cause harm. And I’m not exactly the smallest guy on the block. Although I only stand at 171 centimetres tall (5’7″ for you Imperial folks), I carry a hefty 95 kgs (210 pounds, again Imperial…) of which a reasonable amount is mass and not necessarily fat (although the never-ending gut battle rages on!) I have been taught how to fight from a very young age, both in class and on the street and some of what I’ve been taught will certainly do more than hurt a person.

Due to a number of the difficulties I’ve endured during the course of my life, I have an unseen cauldron of burning rage burning deep below, where I do not allow it to affect the surface. A radical mixture to be sure, when mixed with all the training I’ve received.

“But Shawn, doesn’t being Buddhist mean you don’t get angry? Aren’t you supposed to be all peaceful and stuff?”

No and yes. No, being Buddhist doesn’t mean I don’t get angry. I’m human like everyone else and I have the same full spectrum of emotions as anyone who isn’t. Yes, I am SUPPOSED to be peaceful. I actively seek out peace, in whatever form I can receive it. I am not always successful.

As humans, we shouldn’t be denying those feelings when they bubble close to the surface. Emotion is an energy; often created by endorphins and hormones, sure. But an energy nonetheless. And like any energy within our universe, it can’t be destroyed, simply transformed. So it becomes important for anyone to transform this rage into something else; something constructive.

For example, up until about two months ago I had access to a facility full of heavy punching bags and striking equipment. Speaking from experience, nothing quite helps quell feelings of rage, anger, frustration and violence quite like putting the boots to a punching bag for about half an hour. And performing an intense punching bag workout, in combination with drills and push-ups, can burn up to 500 calories per hour for an average person and help get a wicked sweat on.

Listen, no one is ever able to completely eliminate negative feelings or violence from their lives. Life, in and of itself, does not allow for such a thing. But we all have it within ourselves to take that negative energy and do something positive with it. Go for a walk. Have a workout. Renovate part of your house (ripping down walls REALLY helps burn off excess anger!)

And don’t forget to talk about it! If you’re angry, don’t be scared to SAY you’re angry. You have a right to how you feel, despite the circumstance. Whatever you do, make it a constructive choice and the outcome will never be anything more than positive. ☯