Simpler Ways to Help Your Pancreas

I guess I got too deep into the weeds in the “Glycemic Index Shockers” post. I forgot key points about making life easy for your pancreas. As that post said, it can help to pick foods with low GI. But also:

Most simply, eat less carbs per meal.

These tips are “simple”, not “easy”. 🙂

Also very simple: Eat more slowly.

There is a delay between the time time you eat food and the time it makes you feel full. So, eating more slowly will help you to eat less without feeling deprived. But the point, for your pancreas, is that the “glycemic load” will be distributed over a longer time. So, lower insulin levels can do the work successfully. The pancreas won’t need to make huge amounts suddenly, which stresses it. (Large amounts of insulin also lead to “sugar crash”, when the excess blood glucose is all processed but lots of insulin is still in action.)

Eating more slowly is a very healthy habit. Conversation at meals slows you down, and improves digestion in general. If you eat alone, puzzles or reading can slow you down.

Here are some famous quotations that mention digestion:

Things sweet to taste prove in digestion sour.
William Shakespeare

Yes, exercise is the catalyst. That’s what makes everything happen: your digestion, your elimination, your sex life, your skin, hair, everything about you depends on circulation. And how do you increase circulation?
Jack LaLanne

Meat eaten without either mirth or music is ill of digestion.
Walter Scott

Now, good digestion wait on appetite, and health on both!
William Shakespeare

Good food, good sex, good digestion, good sleep: to these basic animal pleasures, man has added nothing but the good cigarette.
Mignon McLaughlin

Good digestions, the gray monotony of provincial life, and the boredom – ah the soul-destroying boredom – of long days of mild content.
Jean-Paul Sartre

 

Glycemic Index Shockers

Boy, am I ignorant. That’s all I can say for myself. I’ve railed on about the dangers of diabetes, and sugar, and white foods, and those dangers are very real. But I didn’t know many easy, practical ways to lower the glycemic index (“GI”) of my diet. And I didn’t succeed in caring for my pancreas.

The wake-up punch was a sky-high triglycerides reading in my latest blood test. Basically, pre-diabetic numbers.

But, I switched from delicious white breads to uh … tangy … whole wheat, many years ago! The only bagels I eat are whole-wheat and pumpernick bagels! I cook and eat lots of vegetables! Surely I had been virtuous.

No. Lately (okay, since the holidays) my diet has backslid toward the awesome side: chocolate truffles, white bialys, spaghettini with pesto or bolognese, whole-corn chips and tortillas, a respectable cherry pie from my local Shoprite, etc. (It’s the cetera that get ya.)

I found the GI of 100 foods at http://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/glycemic_index_and_glycemic_load_for_100_foods  .  There are many shockers.

The average whole-wheat bread barely beats out Wonder Bread, 69 to 73! (lower is better.) The fineness of the flour makes a huge difference. So do other factors besides for fiber and sugar. The French “plain white baguette” scored a pancreas-popping 96 GI! A typical bread with 50% cracked wheat kernels scores a middling 58, and pumpernick, 56. Thankfully, the plain corn chips and whole-corn tortillas score a nice low GI.

A”coarse barley bread, 80% kernels” scores a super-low 34. But isn’t that just baking a mound of barley?  Soon we will know; I have an old Hitachi bread baker, and I just found the manuals online.

Foods often have a worse GI after more processing. Average macaroni scores 50, but Kraft mac’n’cheese comes in at 64. Oatmeal scores a low 55, but the instant version? 79. Most unsweetened fruit juices have acceptable GI, even though they can be a source of empty sugar calories. But most juice “drinks” and juice “cocktails”, as labelled in the USA, have loads of added sugars and high GI. Few soft drinks have low GI. Some soft drinks have more sugar in the USA than the same product in some other countries, and the USA version has a higher GI.

The shape of pasta makes a huge difference! So does the cooking time – more boiling causes a worse GI! For instance, the average boiled spaghetti comes in at a low 46, while after twenty minutes of boiling, it scores a 58. Ordinary Fettucini tested at 32 GI while whole-grain spaghetti came in worse, at 46! Apparently the extra cooking time needed for whole-grain outweighs the extra fiber.

Cooking also transforms many root crops, from medium GI when they are boiled, to high GI when they are roasted! The roasting liberates the sugars so they taste sweeter and the sugar is absorbed faster. You cannot win.

In general, more fiber and less sugar improves the GI, but not in every case. Fatty candies like those truffles actually do not have high GI. (Yes, they still are full of “empty calories”.)

In some cases, I see no clear pattern, so the list is extra helpful. All sorts of potatoes (like Idahos and russets) have medium or high GI. So do sweet potatoes (the white or light yellow smallish American yams). But ordinary yams (such as the bright orange ones) score a low GI when boiled. Since there are dozens of types of yams and roots worldwide, from purple yams to cassava to taro, it may be wise to consult the longer list (see link below), which has about 200 entries for root crops. Many are listed by botanical name, so this may provide a relaxing afternoon of figuring out what’s what.

So what to do, if you desire a long and happy relationship with your pancreas? Eat fruits and vegetables and beans and protein foods. (Meats and fatty products do not cause diabetes, but some can increase cancer and heart disease.)  Bake with coarse grains, rolled oats, fruits, and no sugar or honey or syrup. Or, buy products made that way. Avoid most breads and cereals, and use the list to find ones with low GI. Avoid most root crops: find ones with low GI on the lists, and cook by boiling, not roasting. You too can feel the joys of quinoa and parsnips!

Getting technical: these numbers are on a scale where glucose = 100. On that scale, 55 and below are scores for “low-GI foods”, which should be relatively safe for a person who does not have diabetes. These are from the 2008 survey article by Dr. Fiona S. Atkinson, Dr. Kaye Foster-Powell, and Dr. Jennie C. Brand-Miller in the magazine “Diabetes Care”. As that article says, many results are from very few tests on very few people, so some inaccuracies can be expected. Their full results for over 2000 foods are at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2584181/bin/dc08-1239_1.pdf .

 

Less-Amazing News

My wife’s usage of fasting to fight rheumatoid arthritis (“RA”) provoked a lot of interest. (Recap: She has tried virtually everything to fight RA. After she fasted for twelve days, symptoms abated, and blood tests showed zero levels for C-reactive-protein (“CRP”), a marker for inflammation.)

(Warning: Long fasts are very dangerous for some people, and one requires knowledge and medical advice beforehand, and careful attention during the fast.)

After the fast, my wife began a modified diet. She now eats a diet that is 100% vegan and gluten-free. She also avoids the nightshade family of plants, which includes tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and potatoes.  (Nightshades are traditionally associated with arthritis. Modern medical science does not support this idea.)

Also, since the long fast, she has done occasional one-day fasts. These are much less dangerous than long fasts; many people do these weekly or annually.

After the long fast, my wife’s RA symptoms returned gradually, to the point that she resumed taking the dangerous medications that reduce the symptoms of RA. (Untreated RA is more dangerous and harmful than the medications.) Now, after many months of the diet and the medications, her blood tests show lower levels of CRP than before the new diet. (She used to take the medications, but ate an ordinary diet and did no fasting.) Subjectively, she now feels less pain and swelling than before. Also, her weight is lower than before.

Many doctors believe that a vegan diet full of fruits and vegetables is healthier than an omnivore diet, as long as one gets the necessary nutrients. Certainly, modern medicine has established that red meat, especially grilled and smoked meat, is associated with health risks;  research into what-and-why continues.

Many doctors believe that “white foods” are bad for health,in large amounts. (“White foods” include sucrose, fructose, and high-glycemic-index foods like white flour, white bread, and potatoes.) It is well-established that these foods lead to obesity and diabetes, although not everyone suffers these results.

Arthritis by definition is inflammation of the joints. We can see my wife’s new diet as a way to keep her weight down. Reducing body weight is well-known to be helpful for treating arthritis, because it reduces the wear-and-tear on the joints.

It is worth mentioning that RA flare-ups typically come and go unpredictably. So, I cannot say for sure what is helping, or why.

It Wouldn’t Be Life Without ………

Jello? Sorry, that’s not it.

No, I am talking about the big D. Death isn’t just for older people, but there’s a correlation. More and more frequently, people who I know personally die.

When I was twenty, a beloved friend died in an auto accident at the age of twenty-two. That was a horrible shock. The next year, on the day when I left Georgia to move to California, my beloved great-grandfather died at the age of one-hundred-and-one. If I had been more aware, I would have noticed a steady stream of relatives, and relatives of friends, and friends of friends, dying off steadily.

These events feel quite different from the knowledge that many of the world’s billions die daily, somewhere. It’s different from hearing media accounts of horrible, unnecessary deaths of strangers in my town, state, or country.  I’d like to value everyone’s life, but when it’s personal, it’s different.

Of course, animals fear and avoid death. It is a basic feature of the “lizard brain” that all sentient life shares.

Many cultures and religions provide reasons not to fear death: reincarnation, heaven, fatalism, glory (as in ancient Sparta), and such. Belief in these takes a lot of training. The reasoning brain can barely overrule the lizard brain.

Lizards never get depressed. Only intelligent creatures do. We humans logically understand that our death, and the deaths of everyone, will come. We know it almost our entire lives.

Here’s one theory of why it’s so depressing: We normally put aside our knowledge of death, but when it happens to somebody close, it intrudes back into our thoughts. It forces us to think that we ourselves will die.

Certainly I am sad for my own loss of a friend or relative, and sad in posthumous empathy with that person, and sad in sympathy with other people who lost the deceased, and sad for my eventual loss of myself. But sadness isn’t depression. (Maybe this leads to depression for some people.) Beyond sadness, I also am forced to think and feel about my own death.

Recognition of my own limited time points up how precious life is. And that brings to mind the time that I wasted, the opportunities that I squandered, the love that I missed, the times that I failed, the people I wronged, and the general grubby self-centered jerkiness of life. And that’s depressing.

It’s no wonder it takes Zen monks decades of silent sitting to relax.

More Sugar! **

It’s a little shocking that the sugar industry bankrolled research to expose the role of fatty foods in heart disease – and to ignore the role of sugar and white foods (refined carbs) in general. (Their reasoning was: lower fat consumption would lead to higher sugar consumption, and draw the Spotlight of Shame away from carbs.)  It’s even more shocking to see that their secret funding of slanted research was legal and very normal back then. Free markets and all that. Caveat emptor.

Today medical opinion about eating fats has changed radically. The advice then, in part due to the secretly-subsidized publications and studies, was to reduce fatty foods. Today the usual advice is to eat good fats and avoid bad fats, most especially trans-fats. I wonder how much of that misconception was due to the food industry’s propaganda and public relations efforts.

The sugar industry knew well that high consumption of either fat or sugar can lead to heart disease, because they had their own secret research. They knew well that high consumption of sugar or refined carbs leads to diabetes. Yet sugar stayed out of the spotlight as a medical menace, and that is mostly still the case. If they knew the dangers all along, and kept it secret, they may end up paying fines and settlements just like the tobacco industry.

Is our accelerating obesity epidemic and our accelerating diabetes epidemic due to the food industry’s propaganda and public relations efforts? Or are we just genetically doomed to eat tasty foods, more than is good for us? Are we ignorant of the causes of diabetes, heart disease, poor circulation, cancer, and gout? Do we just disbelieve in Science? Or are we food’s doomed voluptuaries  – committed to sacrificing our organs, our extremities, and life itself, in order to savor the world’s pleasures fully?  Probably some of each; I know I am. (except the Science thing!)

________________________________________________

**(no relation to Firesign Theater nor to Georgie Tirebiter)

 

Expert, or at least, intermediate plus 51%

via Daily Prompt: Expert

“Expert” happens to be the term for the third level of exercise at the fitness course I use. The signs at the stations give three numbers for how many repetitions to do: Beginner, Intermediate, Expert. I do “expert” rep-counts at some of the stations. I haven’t even reached “beginner” on the one where you swing along a horizontal ladder. On most, my rep counts are 51% between “intermediate” and “expert”. My muscle strength and stamina continue to improve. I increase by a rep or two here and there every few weeks. On the way to “Expert”!

Along with rep-counts, the instructions on the sign say whether to walk, jog, or run to the next station. On this question, I am pretty well stuck at intermediate. It isn’t the legs, it’s the breath. I wonder how much aerobic conditioning can improve at an advanced age.

Amazing News Beyond Today’s Medical Science

My wife has scored a zero. That’s the best possible score on the blood test which looks for C-Reactive Protein (“CRP”). CRP is present when a person has inflammation. People with rheumatoid arthritis (“RA”), like my wife, always have inflammation. She has had inflammation for about twenty years. It is inflammation that damages the joints of RA sufferers and causes so much pain.

During those years she has used various powerful medicines with bad side effects. Some can cause blindness. Some can cause baldness. Some are immuno-suppressants that can, and did, lead to infections. Some are anti-inflammatories that can, and did, cause ulcers.

She also has tried a wide range of other therapies. A few examples: Chinese herbs, the “elimination diet”, more exercise, acupuncture, cupping, physical therapy, hot yoga, and my personal favorite for its weirdness, bee stings. Yes, since the Romans, physicians have had occasional success with bee venom in patients with auto-immune diseases such as RA. No such luck for her though.

So what was the miracle treatment that relieved the pain? Was it another genetically engineered, half-mouse-half-human medical marvel? Was it a new molecule discovered in a giant laboratory of a giant pharma company?

No and no. What led to this remarkable result was a twelve-day fast. Twelve days with nothing but water!

Please see my earlier post “Fast!” for warnings and disclaimers (IANAD, talk to your doctor, fasting is very dangerous for some people,  etc.)

During the fast she was tired. Serious exercise was out of the question, but she did take walks. All medications were stopped during the fast, and for a while before it.

She lost muscle tone (and lots of fat). She lost muscle tissue, because the heart must have glucose, and there are only three sources: food, the liver’s glycogen (a day or two’s supply at most), and the breakdown of muscle tissue.

Other than the heart, the rest of the body’s cells can get energy from ketones, which  the body will make from fat. In fact, the nerve cells probably benefit from the switch to ketone energy.

As the fat cells are emptied, toxins dissolved in the fat are released into the bloodstream. This probably is part of why a dieter feels bad.

The fast was not a pleasant experience for her. Actual hunger pains went away after the first two days, as the digestive system shut down. But the yearning for food increased over time. It took a lot of willpower.  a

I was skeptical, but apparently, it worked.

Now she is on a strict vegan diet, as recommended by many of the same doctors who recommend fasting. She feels much better. Even on a vegan diet, she is regaining weight. A week later she is exercising vigorously again, and feeling much much better. It is practically a miracle!

 

 

Danner Boots for Hikers

Over thirty-five years ago, the awesome Jim S convinced me to splurge on my Danner brand boots . To this day they remain a sturdy companion for hard hikes. I don’t say “comfy” because my model is designed for support and safety first, as befits Jim S., a guy who likes to climb rocks and camp in ice-filled valleys. (I know two people who like ice-camping. I also know other crazy people who do not.) (Jim’s girlfriend Maria really really loved him; she even went ice-camping with him.) I also like the occasional rock scramble, and I am sure these saved my ankles more than once.

Recently, I finally managed to do some slight damage to the boots. I emailed Danner about possible solutions, expecting to receive a sales pitch in response. Instead I received a sensible answer the same day! They pointed out that a fix at home would probably not last; a good local cobbler could fix the boots; and Danner’s own repair department also is available.

Great boots, great customer service.

Update – Where the Efforts Stand

Levels of Exercise

I am plateauing between the second and third levels on the exercise course. Until last week, it had been about four months since I increased the amount of exercise. This week I made some slight increases.

My LSW has been increasing her level on the course gradually. Some of the stations remain very difficult for her, due to inflammation of some of her joints, due to her autoimmune disorder. Over time, the sore joints have led to muscle weakness from disuse.
Frequency of Exercise

I go regularly, every other day. The regularity of it is very beneficial: enough rest, little soreness, less mental effort in choosing what to do & when to do it. Net effect, I would skip more times if it were less regular.

My LSW does the exercise course most times. She also plays tennis and tries a variety of other exercise. The most recent was “hot yoga”, which would probably be a great blog entry, but I didn’t try it.

Of course, keeping frequency high is important. As they say, “Seven days without exercise makes one weak.”

Weather sometimes interferes with the exercise course. Overall our luck using the park has been extraordinarily good. Today we finished, and entered the car, just as a few drops fell, at the start of a heavy downpour.

Vacations take one away from the park. Courses like ours do exist in many places, and the internet may help one find them. But on a recent four day trip, I didn’t do that. I did get in a good swim in a pool at the Watergate Complex. Shout out to Aunt Tenny!
Nutrition

My LSW and I continue to strive for good nutrition, meaning, a diet of mainly vegetable foods and “good” fish. She has grown interested in probiotics, and has been making kefir at home. She also started making pickles, which are great!

The big downfall for nutrition is our endless round of social events. They always feature lots of excellent, delicious, bad food, especially pork, noodles, and desserts. As if that weren’t enough temptation, everyone brings home the leftovers too.

My lifelong habit is to never throw out food, due to childhood training, which was due to a family history of poverty. I always feel a thrill when I manage to throw out some undesirable food.

We were surprised to learn that the nuts we eat contain traces of endosulfan, DDT, and other man-made organochlorines. In general, we are learning that there are real differences between the products of organic and industrial farming, and buying more organic produce than before. But also,  poisons can remain for years in the soil after a farm converts to organic methods.

 

Supplemental Chemicals

I take, every day:

  • ginseng,  as a tonic
  • naproxen to prevent muscle soreness
  • vitamin D-3 to treat chronic low levels in my blood
  • vitamin E for its known benefits for heart health
  • a time-released B-complex for energy
  • a multi-vitamin-and-mineral pill for no particular reason

I found that modafinil was effective for concentration, but interfered with sleep. I rarely use it, although perhaps I will take some before my next certification exam or chess tournament.

Results After a Year

We both look better, lost some weight, and gained some muscle.

My sciatica has not recurred. Nor have my toe cramps, stiff necks, or kidney stones. My cholesterol levels are pretty good, without any medications. My energy levels are okay, but still far from the levels of youth. I still do the “old man grunt” when I stand up. I haven’t been depressed for a while.
The Outlook

My plan is to continue to do the exercise course every two days, with increased number of reps at the stations. My LSW has just begun another extended fast, again hoping to treat her autoimmune disorder.

 

Four!

I try to get some exercise daily. I try to do the exercise course at the park every two days. At first, a year ago, I could not do a chin-up at the park. Starting from zero complete chin-ups, now I can do four.

But today I did three. The fourth was too hard.

When you’re young, your gym teacher tells you to push past your limits. This is good advice at that age. If a youngster does manage to overdo it and get sore, he or she will heal quickly and grow stronger fast. But older people heal more slowly. As I have said before, patience is the hardest part for me.

Injury or soreness sets you back. For continued progress, you must not overdo it.

Of course, patience is only one of the attitude adjustments I need. Lately I am progressing. But an aging person knows that eventually, his or her physical condition will plateau; and later, despite best efforts, the physical condition will decline; and eventually, the physical condition will be: dead. This is hard to accept at any age.