Can the Body Repair Its Own Pancreas?

by Chris Centeno, MD /

Can the body repair its own pancreas? While the imagery that comes to mind might seem like something out of a science-fiction novel, the truth is that real science is outsmarting the fiction here. All indicators, according to a recent study, are that if we set up the right environment, the body can likely repair its own damaged pancreatic cells.

Damaged pancreatic cells can lead to diabetes, and this is a key focus in the research—if the body can repair its own pancreas, do we have a potential treatment for diabetes? Before I discuss the study, let’s review the pancreas and diabetes.

The Pancreas and Diabetes

The pancreas is roughly a tadpole-shaped organ (with a head, body, and tail) that lives behind our stomach. Its head nestles into the inner curve of our duodenum (the first part of the small intestine that our stomach contents empty into) where it connects via the pancreatic duct. Its body and tail span the width of our stomach, ending on the left side of our abdomen at the spleen.

The pancreas functions of part of both the gastrointestinal, or digestive, system and the endocrine system. Though it has other functions, most people know it best, by far, as the gland that releases the hormone insulin to help keep our blood sugar levels under control. And the reason they know it is because when the pancreas isn’t releasing insulin properly, this can lead to diabetes, an extremely prevalent disease in the United States. On its website, the American Diabetes Association provides the following 2012 statistics on Diabetes in the U.S.:

  • 29.1 million (9.3%) Americans have diabetes
  • 1.4 million are newly diagnosed each year
  • 86 million age 20 and older have prediabetes
  • Diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death in the U.S.

The specific cells within the pancreas that produce, store, and secrete insulin are the beta cells. Therefore, damaged or destroyed beta cells can lead to type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, or prediabetes (where the blood sugar is high but not yet high enough to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes). When we ask if the body can repair its own pancreas, it’s those beta cells we want to repair so we can keep the insulin flowing.

The Right Environment for Pancreatic Cell Repair

I mentioned earlier in the post that if we set up the right environment, the body can likely repair its own cells. So what is the right environment? For the purposes of this recent study, the right environment was a fasting-mimicking diet (FMD). The FMD runs in cycles of 30 days. The first 5 days of the cycle, subjects consume low amounts of calories, proteins, and carbohydrates and high amounts of unsaturated fats. During the following 25 days of the cycle, there are no dietary restrictions and participants can eat anything they want, and then the 30-day cycle begins again. Researchers in the study were looking at the affects of an FMD on the pancreas.

The Study: The Fasting-Mimicking Diet Reprograms the Pancreas

The study results in mice show that a modified fasting-mimicking diet (FMD) restores insulin secretion, or, more specifically, reprograms “pancreatic cells to restore insulin generation” in type 1 and type 2 diabetes. In other words, the diet seems to jump-start the pancreas, which in turn restores insulin secretion in diabetics. The specific pancreatic cells the diet impacts are the beta cells, which, as mentioned before, are responsible for releasing insulin when blood sugar increases. One of the study’s authors concluded, “We’ve shown—at least in mouse models—that you can use diet to reverse the symptoms of diabetes.”

The upshot? So can the FMD allow the body to repair its own damaged pancreatic beta cells and reverse the symptoms of diabetes? In mice, yes, but we need to see FMD results in humans. However, this study has much bigger implications. First, it highlights the importance of having the right local microenvironment to heal cells. This is why we’re spending so much time on our local microenvironment study for knee arthritis. Second, changing your diet to mimic the FMD is a heck of a lot less risky than taking diabetes pills, so why not give it a whirl?

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8 thoughts on “Can the Body Repair Its Own Pancreas?

  1. Michael

    Are there any studies which proof the efficacy of your own blood therapy, especially in the orthopedics to treat arthrosis or comparable conditions?
    Thanks
    Michael

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      Michael,
      Arthrosis is another name for Osteoarthritis, a condition that the majority of our knee patients have. The published research on Regenexx procedures accounts for aprox. 51% of the world’s Orthopedic Stem Cell Literature (cumulative N of patients published & treated with bone marrow stem cells as of 4/3/2016) Please see: http://www.regenexx.com/stem-cell-research/#research and http://www.regenexx.com/the-regenexx-procedures/knee-surgery-alternative/

  2. chris

    One unique part about the pancreas is that it functions as both an endocrine and exocrine gland. It was interesting that they only used unsaturated fat. From my understanding coconut oil can be used by the body directly without the need to be broken down. That would seem beneficial to a compromised organ involved in secreting enzymes.

  3. Joe

    I’m a type 1 diabetic and have been a heavy drinker for around 15 years (around 8-10 pints a night) I am 32 and was diagnosed with it when I was 21….. I know very stupid boy. I have recently been on a compleat detox from alcohol and am now on my 15th day alcohol free been eating high protein and a low carb diet and using the gym freakwently. I was using 20 units of lantus solar a day and novo rapid when I ate as an immidiat acting insulin and sugars was all over the place obviously due to the drink.

    The past few days Iv been using 8 units of solar a day and very very little novo rapid. And amazingly my sugars have gone low a couple of times. To be honest I see this as a good thing as it seems to be deteriorating but was told it’s impossible. I have a review in May and will see what they say. I did not realise how much damage alcohol does to you. I was paying hundreds of pounds a week on poison. Is there any seance to this and has anyone experienced anything similar?

  4. Bernadette

    Hello
    Can someone with pancreatitis her pregnant? What kind of can one face during and efter pregnancy? How does IT affect the unborn?

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      Bernadette,
      Our field of research and treatment is regenerative interventional orthpedics, so this is not our field. A quick google search suggested babies being born prematurely is often associated with maternal pancreatitis.

  5. Judi

    Have you cured anyone from type 1 diabetes?
    If not, do you expect a cure for the coming future?

    1. Regenexx Team Post author

      Judi,
      We treat musculoskeletal and orthopedic injuries and conditions. We neither do research in, nor do we treat, Diabetes. A good place to look for research into a medical area of research is PubMed.

Chris Centeno, MD

Regenexx Founder

Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications.
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