Is it Blood Sugar or the Pancreas?

We all know diabetes raises your risk of developing Chronic Kidney Disease. But why? What’s the mechanism behind the fact? As far as I’m concerned, it’s time to find out.

Let’s start with diabetes. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which in turn is part of The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services at https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/what-is-diabetes offers this explanation.

“Diabetes is a disease that occurs when your blood glucose, also called blood sugar, is too high. Blood glucose is your main source of energy and comes from the food you eat. Insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas, helps glucose from food get into your cells to be used for energy. Sometimes your body doesn’t make enough—or any—insulin or doesn’t use insulin well. Glucose then stays in your blood and doesn’t reach your cells.

Over time, having too much glucose in your blood can cause health problems. Although diabetes has no cure, you can take steps to manage your diabetes and stay healthy.

Sometimes people call diabetes ‘a touch of sugar’ or ‘borderline diabetes.’”

Having just had a tumor removed from my pancreas, I’m well aware that it produces insulin as well as digestive enzymes. Without a pancreas to produce insulin, you would need insulin injections several times a day.

I got what diabetes is, but how it causes CKD was still not clear.

Well, not until I read the following from The American Diabetes Association at https://www.diabetes.org/diabetes/complications/kidney-disease-nephropathy.

“When our bodies digest the protein we eat, the process creates waste products. In the kidneys, millions of tiny blood vessels (capillaries) with even tinier holes in them act as filters. As blood flows through the blood vessels, small molecules such as waste products squeeze through the holes. These waste products become part of the urine. Useful substances, such as protein and red blood cells, are too big to pass through the holes in the filter and stay in the blood.

Diabetes can damage this system. High levels of blood sugar make the kidneys filter too much blood. All this extra work is hard on the filters. After many years, they start to leak and useful protein is lost in the urine. Having small amounts of protein in the urine is called microalbuminuria.

When kidney disease is diagnosed early, during microalbuminuria, several treatments may keep kidney disease from getting worse. Having larger amounts of protein in the urine is called macroalbuminuria. When kidney disease is caught later during macroalbuminuria, end-stage renal disease, or ESRD, usually follows.

In time, the stress of overwork causes the kidneys to lose their filtering ability. Waste products then start to build up in the blood. Finally, the kidneys fail. This failure, ESRD, is very serious. A person with ESRD needs to have a kidney transplant or to have the blood filtered by machine (dialysis).”

Hmmm, now that we know what diabetes is and how it can cause CKD, maybe we need to look at ways to attempt to avoid diabetes.

  • Losing weight and keeping it off. Weight control is an important part of diabetes prevention. You may be able to prevent or delay diabetes by losing 5 to 10 percent of your current weight. For example, if you weigh 200 pounds, your goal would be to lose between 10 to 20 pounds. And once you lose the weight, it is important that you don’t gain it back.
  • Following a healthy eating plan. It is important to reduce the amount of calories you eat and drink each day, so you can lose weight and keep it off. To do that, your diet should include smaller portions and less fat and sugar. You should also eat a variety of foods from each food group, including plenty of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. It’s also a good idea to limit red meat, and avoid processed meats.
  • Get regular exercise. Exercise has many health benefits, including helping you to lose weight and lower your blood sugar levels. These both lower your risk of type 2 diabetes. Try to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity 5 days a week. If you have not been active, talk with your health care professional to figure out which types of exercise are best for you. You can start slowly and work up to your goal.
  • Don’t smoke. Smoking can contribute to insulin resistance, which can lead to type 2 diabetes. If you already smoke, try to quit.
  • Talk to your health care provider to see whether there is anything else you can do to delay or to prevent type 2 diabetes. If you are at high risk, your provider may suggest that you take one of a few types of diabetes medicines.”

This is a list from NIH: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases posted on MedLinePlus at https://medlineplus.gov/howtopreventdiabetes.html. Notice it’s mentioned that this is for type 2 diabetes.

There are 11 different kinds of diabetes. Types 1 and 2 are the most common. WebMD at https://www.webmd.com/diabetes/guide/types-of-diabetes-mellitus#1 explains what type 1 and 2 are.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition. It’s caused by the body attacking its own pancreas with antibodies. In people with type 1 diabetes, the damaged pancreas doesn’t make insulin…. With Type 2 diabetes, the pancreas usually produces some insulin. But either the amount produced is not enough for the body’s needs, or the body’s cells are resistant to it. Insulin resistance, or lack of sensitivity to insulin, happens primarily in fat, liver, and muscle cells.”

This is all starting to make sense.

Until next week,

Keep living your life!

But Why?

As Chronic Kidney Disease patients, we all know that proteinuria is one indication of our disease. Would you like a reminder about what proteinuria is? Here’s one from The American Kidney Fund at http://www.kidneyfund.org/kidney-disease/kidney-problems/protein-in-urine.html:

“Healthy kidneys remove extra fluid and waste from your blood, but let proteins and other important nutrients pass through and return to your blood stream. When your kidneys are not working as well as they should, they can let some protein (albumin) escape through their filters, into your urine. When you have protein in your urine, it is called proteinuria (or albuminuria). Having protein in your urine can be a sign of nephrotic syndrome, or an early sign of kidney disease.”

I used to think that’s all it was: an indicator of CKD. That is until my occupational therapist and I got to talking about the edema caused by neuropathy.

Ah! Flash! We did also talk about Havimat which I wrote about last week and I checked on a number of sites to see if it were safe for an active tumor. The consensus of the sites agreed it was safe to use on someone with an active tumor that was being treated as long as it was not used on the location of the tumor itself. I feel better now about having had three sessions with Havimat since the occupational therapist was careful not to use it anywhere near my pancreas – the site of the tumor.

But I digress. Back to the topic at hand: proteinuria. It seems that protein is needed in the body, rather than being excreted in the urine. You guessed it. My question became the topic of today’s blog: But Why?

According to WebMD at https://www.webmd.com/men/features/benefits-protein#1:

“Protein is an important component of every cell in the body. Hair and nails are mostly made of protein. Your body uses protein to build and repair tissues. You also use protein to make enzymes, hormones, and other body chemicals. Protein is an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood.”

Okay, got it that protein is very necessary but what does that have to do with the chemotherapy I had that seemed to cause the proteinuria problem?  After looking at bunches of different sites (Today’s blog is taking a very long time to write.), I gleaned a little hint here and a little hint there until I figured out that certain types of chemotherapy may make proteinuria worse if you already have it, or cause it. Boo for me; I lost on that one since I already had proteinuria.

Well, what about the edema from the neuropathy? Was proteinuria affecting that in some way? Or did I have it backwards and it was the neuropathy that was causing the edema. I went to eMedicineHealth at https://www.emedicinehealth.com/neuropathy/article_em.htm#what_is_neuropathy for some help with this.

“Certain drugs and medications can cause nerve damage. Examples include cancer therapy drugs such as vincristine(Oncovin, Vincasar), and antibiotics such as metronidazole (Flagyl), and isoniazid (Nydrazid, Laniazid).”

This little tidbit is from MedicalNewsToday at https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323481.php :

“Chemotherapy can damage nerves that affect feeling and movement in the hands and feet. Doctors call this condition chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN). Symptoms can be severe and may affect a person’s quality of life.”

By the way, diabetic neuropathy is another form of peripheral neuropathy.

Uh-oh, now what do I do? The HonorHealth Research Institute in Scottsdale, Arizona, where I’m being treated offered both the gabapentin for the pain (which I skipped since I want to try non-drug treatment first) and occupational therapy. Let’s see what that might do for me. Please note that occupational therapy works at reducing the pain of the neuropathy.

I have a bag of toys. Each has a different sensory delivery on my hands and feet. For example, there’s a woven metal ring that I run up and down my fingers and toes, then up my arms and legs. I do the same with most of the other toys: a ball with netting over it, another with rubber strings hanging from it. I also have a box of uncooked rice to rub my feet and hands in… and lots of other toys. The idea is to desensitize my hands and feet.

I was also given physical exercises to do, like raising my fisted hands above my head and straightening out my fist several times.  This is one of many exercises. Do you remember the old TV show, E.R? It takes me slightly longer than one 43 minute episode to complete the exercises.

When I go to see the therapist, she uses the Havimat (electrical stimulation), another machine that sucks the chemo out (no kidding… and it doesn’t hurt either.), and a third that pulses. I am amazed at how the edema disappears when she uses these. But, unfortunately, the effect doesn’t stay very long. Compression socks have helped and, despite their not-so-pleasing appearance are quite comfortable.

Wow! Proteinuria is so much more than just an indication that you may have Chronic Kidney Disease.

Ready for a topic change? The following is part of an email I received from KDIGO (Kidney Disease – Improving Global Outcomes).

“We … invite your comments at any time.  Suggest topics, look for opportunities for KDIGO to implement its work in your area, bring new ideas to us, and help us become more relevant to the lives of patients like you. As a global organization, we seek to continue to develop communication channels to patients throughout the world.  This is difficult to do from one perspective, but if we work together we can build a robust base of individuals and ideas that will help us plan and carry out our mission.

KDIGO doesn’t have any members or local entities to whom we are accountable.  We only are accountable to you, our patients.  Outcomes of your care are our mission.  We can do it better if you work with us and give us your constructive input.

Again, thanks for letting us know you’d like to be a part of this global effort.  Your ideas are welcome and will be taken into account. “

Keep those comments coming, folks. Their email is kdigocommunications@kdigo.org.

Until next week,

Keep living your life!

Diabetic Neuropathy or Not: I WILL Dance Again

I come from a family of dancers. My parents and their siblings were all light on their feet and danced from the time they were teens right up until just before their deaths. It was a delight to watch them. The tradition continued with me… and my youngest who actually taught blues dancing for several years.

Ah, but then my neuropathy appeared. This was years before the diabetes diagnosis. Hmmm, there’s still a question as to whether or not the diabetes was caused by the pancreatic cancer. After all, the pancreas does produce insulin.

I just reread the above two paragraphs and see so much that needs some basic explanation. Let’s start with those explanations this week. How many of you know what neuropathy is? I didn’t either until I was diagnosed with it. According to my favorite dictionary since college a million years ago, The Merriam-Webster Dictionary at https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/neuropathy defines neuropathy as:

“damage, disease, or dysfunction of one or more nerves especially of the peripheral nervous system that is typically marked by burning or shooting pain, numbness, tingling, or muscle weakness or atrophy, is often degenerative, and is usually caused by injury, infection, disease, drugs, toxins, or vitamin deficiency “

If you clicked though on ‘peripheral nervous system’ in the dictionary definition, you know it means,

“the part of the nervous system that is outside the central nervous system and comprises the cranial nerves excepting the optic nerve, the spinal nerves, and the autonomic nervous system”

Since the neuropathy was so minor before the pancreatic cancer, I wasn’t even aware of it until my neurologist did some testing. I knew my feet were tingly sometimes, but I thought they had fallen asleep. It did sort of feel like that.

Then, I started chemotherapy in March. The tingling became so bad that I couldn’t feel my feet under me and had to rely on a cane to keep my balance. We thought it was the chemo drugs causing the neuropathy. Uh-oh, that was just about when my hands became affected, too, and my A1C (Remember that one? It’s the blood test for the average of your blood glucose over a three month period.) rose all the way to 7.1.

Healthline at https://www.healthline.com/health/type-2-diabetes/ac1-test#understanding-the-results tells us,

“Someone without diabetes will have about 5 percent of their hemoglobin glycated [Gail here: that means glucose bonded to hemoglobin]. A normal A1C level is 5.6 percent or below, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

A level of 5.7 to 6.4 percent indicates prediabetes. People with diabetes have an A1C level of 6.5 percent or above.”

Mind you, during chemotherapy I’d been ordered to eat whatever I could. Getting in the calories would cut down on the expected weight loss. In all honesty, I’m the only person I know what gained weight while on chemotherapy.

Now, what is this about the pancreas producing insulin? Might as well get a definition of insulin while we’re at it. MedicineNet at https://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=3989 offered the simplest explanation:

“A natural hormone made by the pancreas that controls the level of the sugar glucose in the blood. Insulin permits cells to use glucose for energy. Cells cannot utilize glucose without insulin.”

That would explain why my energy is practically nil, but it also seems to indicate that I won’t be able to do anything about it until after the surgery to remove the tumor. Although, when I start radiation next week, I may be able to go back to the diabetic diet. By the way, after following the Chronic Kidney Disease diet for 11 years, none of the new – off the CKD diet – foods I tried are appealing to me.

But I digress. So, what now? I need to dance; it’s part of who I am. My oncologist referred me to Occupational Therapy. Now I have exercises and tactile surfaces to explore that may be helpful. But what about those who are not going through chemotherapy, but do have diabetic neuropathy? Remember diabetes is the number cause of CKD.

Oh, my goodness. It looks like there are as many ways to treat neuropathy as there are different kinds of neuropathy. I hadn’t expected that. EverydayHealth at https://www.everydayhealth.com/neuropathy/guide/treatment/ gives us an idea of just how complicated choosing the proper treatment for your neuropathy can be:

What Are the Main Ways That Neuropathy Is Treated?

Treating neuropathy in general focuses first on identifying and then addressing the underlying condition to help prevent further damage and give nerves the time they need to heal to the extent that they can.

“The treatment for the neuropathy is to reverse whatever it is that is causing the neuropathy,” says Clifford Segil, DO, a neurologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. “We try to reverse the insult to the nerves first and then do symptomatic control.”

For people with diabetic neuropathy, the first step physicians take is getting the person’s blood glucose level under control, says Matthew Villani, DPM, a podiatrist at Central Florida Regional Hospital in Sanford, Florida.

This treatment approach aims to remove the “insult” created by the excess sugar to peripheral nerves throughout the body — but especially the extremities, Dr. Segil explains.

Here are some other ways diabetic neuropathy may be treated:

  • Numbness or complete loss of sensation can lead to complications such as ulcers, sores, and limb amputations. It is addressed by monitoring the affected areas — often the feet — for injuries and addressing wounds before they become more serious, as well as prescribing protective footwear and braces.
  • Orthostatic hypotension (a drop in blood pressure upon standing up), which is an autonomic symptom, can be treated with increased sodium intake, a vasopressor such as ProAmatine (midodrine) to constrict blood vessels, a synthetic mineralocorticoid such as fludrocortisone to help maintain the balance of salt in the body, or a cholinesterase inhibitor such as pyridostigmine, which affects neurotransmitters.
  • Gastroparesis, a delayed emptying of the stomach, is another autonomic symptom, which can be treated with medication to control nausea and vomiting, such as Reglan (metoclopramide), Ery-Tab (erythromycin), antiemetics, and antidepressants, as well as pain medication for abdominal discomfort.
  • Motor neuropathy symptoms can include weakness and muscle wasting, particularly in the lower extremities, as well as deformities of the feet and loss of the Achilles’ heel tendon reflex. Treatments can include physical therapy to regain strength, as well as braces and orthotics.

I’ve got to think about this. Any questions? Well, then,

Until next week,

Keep living your life!

Chemo and My Kidneys

 As most of you know, I am extremely protective of my kidneys. When I was first diagnosed with Chronic Kidney Disease 11 years ago, my eGFR was only 39. Here’s a quick reminder of what the eGFR is from my first CKD book, What Is It and How Did I Get It? Early Stage Chronic Kidney Disease:

“GFR: Glomerular filtration rate [if there is a lower case ‘e’ before the term, it means estimated glomerular filtration rate] which determines both the stage of kidney disease and how well the kidneys are functioning.”

39. That’s stage 3B, the lower part of stage 3B. During the intervening 11 years, I’ve been able to raise it to 50 (and sometimes higher for short periods) via vigorously following the renal diet, exercising, avoiding stress as much as possible, maintaining adequate sleep, and paying strict attention to the medications prescribed for me. While the medications were the ones I had been taking for high blood pressure prior to being diagnosed with CKD, they worked in my favor.

This excerpt from The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) part of the United States National Library of Medicine (NLM), a branch of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK492989/ will explain why:

“The decision of whether to reduce blood pressure levels in someone who has chronic kidney disease will depend on

  • how high their blood pressure is (when untreated),
  • whether they have diabetes, and
  • how much protein is in their urine (albumin level).

A person with normal blood pressure who doesn’t have diabetes and hardly has any albumin in their urine will be able to get by without using any blood-pressure-lowering medication. But people who have high blood pressure, diabetes or high levels of albumin in their urine are advised to have treatment with ACE inhibitors (angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors) or sartans (angiotensin receptor blockers). In people who have diabetes, blood-sugar-lowering medication is also important.”

When I was first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer early last month, it changed my medical priorities. With my nephrologist’s blessing, my primary focus was the cancer… not my kidneys. It took constant reminders to myself not to be so quick to say no to anything that I thought would harm my kidneys. In other words, to those things I’d been saying no to for the last 11 years.

For example, once diagnosed with CKD, I ate very little protein keeping to my five ounce daily limitation. Not anymore. Protein is needed to avoid muscle wasting during chemotherapy with a minimum requirement of eight ounces a day. I even tried roast beef and other red meats. After 11 years, they no longer agreed with me so I eat ground turkey, chicken, cheese, and am considering soy.

Another change: I preferred not to eat carbohydrates, but was warned not to lose weight if I could help it. All of a sudden I’m eating Goldfish, bread, and pasta. I can’t say that I’m enjoying them, but I am keeping my weight loss to a minimum. Other limitations like those on potassium and phosphorous have also gone by the wayside. I’ve eaten every childhood favorite, foods that I’ve avoided for the last 11 years, and anything that might look tempting in the last month, but none of them really taste that good. I like the foods on the renal diet now.

Oh, the only thing I have not increased is salt. My daughter takes me to my chemotherapy sessions. There’s a Jewish style restaurant across the street and we showed up early one day. I wanted to try a toasted bagel with butter, the way I ate it before CKD. The damned thing was salty! I hadn’t expected that.

Back to chemo and my kidneys. I admit it. I was nervous. What was this combination of poisons going to do to my kidneys? If it was so caustic that I had to have a port in place so that it wouldn’t be injected directly into my veins for fear of obliterating them, what about my kidneys?

I anxiously awaited my first Comprehensive Blood Panel, the blood test that includes your GFR. Oh, oh, oh! My kidney function had risen to 55 and my creatinine had lowered to 1.0. Let me explain just how good this was.

A GFR of 55 is the higher part of stage 3A. 60 is where stage 2 of CKD begins. My kidneys were functioning better on chemo. And the creatinine? Let’s get a quick definition of that first. According to The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases at https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/kidney-disease/chronic-kidney-disease-ckd/tests-diagnosis:

“Creatinine. Creatinine is a waste product from the normal breakdown of muscles in your body. Your kidneys remove creatinine from your blood. Providers use the amount of creatinine in your blood to estimate your GFR. As kidney disease gets worse, the level of creatinine goes up.”

Yet, mine went down. How? I asked and it was explained that all the hydration used to clear my veins of the caustic chemotherapy had worked this magic. I had two hours of hydration before the chemo-therapy  itself, two hours afterward, and another two hours the next day. My kidneys had never been this hydrated!

But wait, there’s more. I have diabetes. The pancreas is the organ that produces insulin. Could my diabetes be from the tumor blocking the production of insulin by my pancreas? I truly don’t know, but my glucose level is within the standard range for the first time since I’ve been diagnosed with diabetes.

Would I recommend chemotherapy to raise your GFR, and lower your creatinine and your glucose level? Of course not. But I am feeling so very lucky that my kidneys are not coming to any harm during the chemotherapy necessary to save my life. I can’t begin to tell you how relieved I am.

Until next week,

Keep living your life!