NH21 Weekly comes to you a day ahead of schedule this week, on account of Spirit Fest 2017, Cape Town’s annual yoga festival in beautiful Citrusdal (www.spiritfest.co.za)
And in another change from the norm, this week’s installment of global health musings will be the first of a two-part review of the Pancreas; that ill-fated compound gland tasked with regulating blood sugar in a world where some consider it a human right to bombard the unfortunate organ with myriad different versions of sugar, many of which have absolutely no physiological function what-so-ever, yet make up the bulk of the standard western diet.
It isn’t news that type-II diabetes is a lifestyle related condition, i.e. caused by a person’s own actions; nor that this entirely avoidable metabolic disorder affects 415 million people between the ages of 20 and 70 worldwide. (1)
What seems exciting to researchers at the University of Southern California however, are experiments that show that the pancreas can be triggered to regenerate itself through a type of fasting diet. (2)
The pancreas is an accessory organ of the digestive system that is principally involved in the production of hormones such as glucagon, insulin and somatostatin. It is both an accessory digestive organ and an endocrine gland; secreting hormones and enzymes that are released into the small intestine to digest lipids, carbohydrates and proteins.
The pancreas is made up of three main parts; the head, the body and the tail.
The head of the pancreas is a subsection of the organ on the right extremity, and is the main area of pancreatic polypeptide production that acts to self-regulate pancreatic secretions.
The body of the pancreas is the largest subsection; made up of three surfaces: the anterior, posterior and inferior surfaces.
The tail of the pancreas is the narrow terminus on the left extremity, extending as far as the gastric surface of the spleen.
Type-I diabetes is caused by the immune system destroying pancreatic cells, whereas with type-II the body no longer responds to the insulin produced to utilize blood sugar for energy. In either case the pancreas becomes unreliable and can degenerate to the point where it completely loses function.
Research into fasting showed that the symptoms can not only be managed, but actually reversed; with USCs Dr Valter Longo noting;
“The cells in the pancreas are triggered to use some kind of developmental reprogramming that rebuilds the part of the organ that’s no longer functioning.
Scientifically, the findings are perhaps even more important because we’ve shown that you can use diet to reprogramme cells.” (3)
SOME KIND OF DIET
The concept of food as medicine has been around for millennia. In traditional cultures food and medicine were strongly interwoven; with many foods treasured due to their use in treating or preventing disease.
The modern era of evidence-based-practice represents an opportune time, as science begins to investigate and research long held beliefs and practices in an attempt to gather evidence and strengthen our understanding of the therapeutic role of food.
Gaps do exist between cultural beliefs around food, its use as medicine, and currently established scientific evidence. Yet a lack of evidence doesn’t necessarily mean a practice doesn’t work; only that health professionals are limited in advocating its benefits more broadly without first undertaking the research to establish an evidence base.
Evidence based medicine is the “conscientious, explicit, and judicious use of current best evidence in making decisions about the care of individual patients and more broadly applied to populations.” (4)
The concern however, is that evidence is notoriously difficult to substantiate, in part due to each research body undertaking their own enquiries, and not appearing to cross-reference with their peers.
For example, USCs observations into pancreatic renewal might be considered more remarkable, if the National Institutes of Health hadn’t already acknowledged this as far back as 2000, noting that the process of pancreatic regeneration is “well known and accepted, having been confirmed by CT scans and also functionally tests.” (5)
And even before then, high-school biology has long taught that pancreatic cells are categorized as ‘stable’ cells, along with those of the liver, kidneys and thyroid; that have limited capacity to undergo mitosis (renewal) in times of need.
The body has the capacity to heal itself if given the right conditions. The cornerstone of natural healthcare is supporting the body’s inherent ability to protect and heal itself; which, in the case of pancreatic degeneration, would start with an immediate and complete removal of all sugar from the diet – itself a form of fasting, especially for those whom consider sugar to be a staple food source.
Unfortunately, orthodox medicine severely underestimates the body’s capacity to heal, and rarely subscribes to the idea of wholism (body, mind and emotions) or to the importance of preventative interventions. Complementary and natural healthcare practices are frequently slandered as ‘quackery’ and ‘pseudo-scientific’ when in fact, as USC demonstrate, there are a great number of reputable organizations undertaking rigorous research on a range of therapeutic procedures.
As modern medicine continues its march towards greater degrees of high-tech procedures and specialization, it is reassuring to see organizations such as USC investigating the physiological effects of time-honoured techniques such as fasting.
NH21 has utilized fasting as a therapy for many years; but with today’s word count almost exhausted, we will have to wait until “part two” to delve deeper into the evidence for this ancient healing technique.
As we head now to Citrusdal, and some much needed time spent with fellow pseudo-scientific yogi’s; you have a full 8 days to consider your own thoughts and send through comments on your experiences with food, or lack thereof, as medicine.
Your pancreas thanks you in advance.