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Have you ever heard of type 3c diabetes?
Compared to diabetes type 1 and type 2, it is not as well-known, yet it ought to be recognized more. Here’s why: research shows that type 3c diabetes is often misdiagnosed as type 2, which leads to improper treatment. Type 3c diabetes is surprisingly prevalent. A correct diagnosis can significantly improve treatments and the quality of life for those impacted by this common disease.
How do we differentiate between the different types of diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes, also known as juvenile diabetes, is most frequently diagnosed at a young age. It occurs when the pancreas doesn’t produce insulin and it is an autoimmune condition. Type 2 diabetes often occurs later in life and is often due to lifestyle and dietary imbalances, which lead to high blood sugar. The body responds to the excess blood sugar by increasing insulin production and over time, cannot keep up with the demand. Eventually, insulin resistance occurs and when insulin is produced, the body does not respond to it appropriately. Type 3c occurs because of a damaged pancreas, hence it is also known as pancreatogenic diabetes. In this case, the pancreas stops producing insulin due to physical damage to the organ. This can result from pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), cystic fibrosis, pancreatic cancer, or the surgical removal of part of the pancreas.
Understanding Type 3c Diabetes
Due to a damaged pancreas, diabetes type 3c has a more complex pathology than type 1 and type 2 diabetes. The production of insulin in type 3c diabetes is reduced due to the pancreatic beta cell dysfunction or the complete loss of beta cells that occurs following pancreatic inflammation. Damage to the pancreas also impacts the insulin’s effect in the liver, leading to insulin resistance. The alpha cells in the pancreas that are responsible for producing glucagon (our body’s glucose storage) are also diminished.
With all of this in mind, we can see why people with diabetes type 3c are more likely to be undernourished and have nutrient deficiencies- fat malabsorption (leading to fat-soluble vitamin deficiencies, such as vitamin D) and carbohydrate malabsorption. This malnutrition leads to low glycogen stores in the body, which makes regulating blood glucose (blood sugar) difficult, and results in severe swings in blood sugar levels. In turn, this makes treatment challenging, as there can be an exaggerated response to insulin. People with type 3c diabetes are prone to more frequent and dramatic highs (hyperglycemia) and lows (hypoglycemia) of blood sugar—even with insulin treatment.
It can be challenging to distinguish between type 1 and type 2 diabetes and type 3c diabetes because all involve pancreatic failure (issues with insulin and glucagon), and both other types of diabetes also carry an increased risk of pancreatitis. Also, there is currently a lack of diagnostic criteria. The important thing to remember is that diabetes type 3c is rooted in the disorder of the pancreas. Pancreatitis (inflammation in the pancreas) is the leading cause of type 3c, with studies showing that 80% of people who develop diabetes type 3c have pancreatitis.
How to Prevent Pancreatitis
Pancreatitis occurs when the pancreas becomes inflamed and, in turn, the digestive enzymes that are meant to be active inside the intestines become prematurely active, breaking down the pancreatic cells. Given its serious complications, pancreatitis requires medical intervention for treatment. Regarding the prevention of pancreatitis, there are a number of lifestyle considerations and dietary choices that can be helpful.
Reducing inflammation is the key to preventing and reversing pancreatitis. Refraining from alcohol and not smoking are also highly recommended, as both exacerbate pancreatic inflammation and fibrosis (scarring). Limiting alcohol is also helpful for managing blood sugar. Excess sugar in the blood can be a cause of systemic inflammation.
Along with alcohol, gallstones are another common cause of pancreatitis. Gallstones occur when bile (which is key to fat digestion) becomes hardened. Since excess consumption of fatty, fried foods can lead to gallstones, focus on incorporating omega-3 fats into the diet (ex. cod liver oil, salmon, walnuts, flax seeds); and consume healthy oils like olive and coconut oil; and, rid the diet of trans fats.
Incorporating higher amounts of soluble fiber and anti-inflammatory foods and herbs into the diet can help aid in digestion. Remove any suspected allergens, some common ones are dairy, soy, wheat, and corn, along with removing processed foods which contain preservatives and chemical additives. This is most easily achieved by eating whole foods.
Dietary intake of antioxidants can also help prevent pancreatitis. Antioxidants are important for overall health, as they help rid the body of free radicals (which create inflammation). Vitamins A, C, and E, along with selenium and carotenoids, are all well-studied antioxidants. Some foods that are wonderful sources of antioxidants include blueberries, cherries, tomatoes, squash and bell pepper.
Hormonal imbalances can also play a role in pancreatitis. Regular movement and weight management, along with a whole foods diet and good sleep rhythms, can help achieve more balanced hormones. It is recommended to exercise 30 minutes daily, five days a week.
Herbs for Prevention
Reishi Mushroom has been shown to increase beneficial bacteria in people suffering from pancreatitis. In one study, this shows promise for this herb being used as a potential treatment. Reishi is a powerful adaptogen, with strong immune-modulating (immune balancing) effects. It is also known for having anti-inflammatory effects in the body.
The traditional medicine system of Ayurveda has long used Triphala as a digestive aid. There are a handful of studies that show Triphala prevents the formation of pancreatic cancer cells (pancreatitis is a risk factor for pancreatic cancer). Triphala is a powder of three fruits: Amalaki, Haritaki, and Bhibitaki. It is known as a balancing formula and has adaptogenic effects, which greatly enhances digestion. It is helpful for promoting nutrient absorption and elimination. It has also been shown to enhance pancreatic function and help maintain blood glucose levels. Triphala is also high in antioxidants, which are known to impact overall health in a positive way!
Traditional Chinese Medicine
There are individual case reports that show some Traditional Chinese Medicines (TCM) can both prevent and treat pancreatitis. Some of these herbs include:
Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) can help improve the digestion of fats, and it is also an excellent anti-inflammatory.
Peony root (Paeonia officinalis) helps to improve digestion and has been shown to help decrease inflammation in the pancreas by inhibiting pancreatic amylase.
Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) this herb is a powerful adaptogen that has been shown to modulate pancreatic beta cells (reducing cell death, and increasing insulin production).
Ginger root (Zingiber officinale) is a wonderful anti-inflammatory. Some research shows it has anti-cancer effects in the pancreas (along with other organs). It is also a delicious digestive aid.
As we can see, there is a lot to consider when it comes to pancreatic health. Diabetes type 3 is a complex, yet common disease that is often misdiagnosed. By understanding the root cause is a pancreatic imbalance, we can begin to focus on supporting our pancreas and preventing further disease. There is a lot of lifestyle and dietary practices that can assist us in our quest for health and well-being.
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