Why Do Beta Cells Stop Working But Not the Rest of the Pancreas?

What did the beta cells do to deserve it? Why does the pancreas give up producing insulin in people with type-1 diabetes… but it still goes on producing digestive enzymes? Why doesn’t it all fail together? What’s different about islet cells?

This is a question that haunts me as I explore possible ways that type-1 diabetes might be reversed for my wife, Nicole. I suspect the answer hold clues on how to bring the beta cells back to life.

After all, here you have this 15cm (6″) long organ called the pancreas that appears to be mainly built for digestion. Almost placed there as an afterthought, it seems, are the islets of Langerhans – “small islands” of hormone producing cells floating in a sea of pancreas. They are named after the 19th century German biologist Paul Langerhans (see July 1986 issue of the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine).

Each of Langerhan’s islets contain at least 3,000 cells according to the Diabetes Research Institute Foundaiton. Scientists estimate there are about a million islets. So that’s 4 billion islet cells. Sounds like a lot. But they only take up about 2% of the space in the pancreas.

So why are the islet cells so vulnerable? Why does the immune system apparently attack them to the point that they stop functioning?

Recently I read in Current Diabetes Review that the islet cells of the pancreas are fed by a capillary network five times denser than the capillaries supplying blood to the rest of the pancreas. This, one might assume, would make the islets cells extremely susceptible to vasoconstriction – constriction of blood vessels.

As Dr. K. P. Buteyko’s theory of hypocapnia suggests, vasoconstriction causes many of most diseases of modern civilization. If not enough blood finds its way to a particular organ (or part of an organ), then that tissue is going to be starved of oxygen, fluid and nutrients.

And what causes vasoconstriction? Low CO2 levels in the blood stream. And what causes low CO2 levels? Over-breathing. And what causes over-breathing? Too much stress (which includes everything from a mean school teacher in grade 3 to your wifi router in 2016) and not enough exercise or physical labour (with the mouth closed, of course).

Of course, this raises the question, why just the beta cells? According to Wikipedia, beta cells may make up as much as 80% of the islet cells. But there are still three other types of islet cells: alpha, delta and gamma. Alpha cells make glucagon, which raises blood sugar. As anybody with type-1 diabetes knows who forgot to take their basal, there is plenty of glucagon available.

So if lack of blood flow to the islet cells is the cause of type-1 diabetes, why do only the beta cells stop working? If the immune system is truly to blame, why does it attack only the beta cells? And what possible connection could there be between a suicidal immune system and constricted capillaries? I have some ideas which I’ll share in a future post (subscribe if you don’t want to miss out).

Until then consider the above idea. Studies have shown that all people with diabetes have chronically low CO2 levels. Low CO2 levels will restrict blood vessels. The blood vessel supplying oxygen and nutrients to the beta cells are five time smaller than the other capillaries in the pancreas. Is this all just coincidence?

Thinking outside the type-1 matrix,
–John C. A. Manley

P.S. For more on how breathing less improves life for people with type-1 diabetes check out: Buteyko Method Brings “Insulin Consumption to Its Minimum”

P.P.S. According to Dr. Artour Rakhimov, in his book Breathing Slower and Less, type-1 diabetes has been reversed by Russian medical doctors. They did this by training patients to maintain a higher CO2 level in their bloodstream. More information is contained in his book which is available from amazon.com, amazon.ca and amazon.co.uk.

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