Posted by on Saturday, 23 July 2016

Cholesterol confusion and climate change

Photo by Malcolm Koo (Creative Commons)
There are two types of people in the world - those who repeatedly suggest there are two types of people in the world and those who don't.

When it comes to cholesterol and heart disease however, there seem to be three types of people in the world: Firstly those who think fat is bad, cholesterol causes heart disease and statins should basically be put in the water supply; Secondly those who suggest cholesterol is a natural healthy substance, saturated fat is fine and doesn't affect serum cholesterol anyway and that statins are at best ineffective and at worst part of an evil plot by Big Pharma to make vast sums of money and hang the consequences to anyone who takes them. Thirdly there is the group that watches the two extremes bicker and squabble. That reads report after report each debunking the other's 'evidence' shrugs our shoulders and wonders what on earth to make of it all.

You may be able to tell that I am firmly in the third group.

I have tried to write this post many times before. Almost always after the release of some study or other which shines light on it (from either direction) in a pretty conclusive way. But each time this happens, almost without fail, within a day or two I will see something else that eloquently argues exactly the opposite point of view - and I find myself back at square one. So I have given up waiting until I have made up my mind one way or another and decided to just pour it all out. To try to eplain my confusion - probably mostly to myself. It will be rambling, contradictory, borderline-incoherent, and in reality I should probably re-read it and get rid of at least two thirds of it. But I'm not going to spare you that, dear reader. You will just have to suffer along with me.

At the outset it is crucial to remind you that I have absolutely NO medical expertise whatsoever. This is not advice (perish the thought!). I don't understand most of this stuff enough to apply it to my own situation, let alone anyone else's. I know people that take Statins and get on well with them. I know people that have had terrible experiences with Statins and would not touch them with a bargepole.

The last time I nearly wrote this post was April this year when I read this report of the HOPE trial. I found this particularly interesting, because it talks specifically about 'primary prevention'. That's medical shorthand for giving people some medicine to prevent a thing happening that they might be at increased risk of.
“Statins work beautifully, resulting in a high significant relative risk reduction of 25%,” said Yusuf. Further, statins were “relatively safe,” though there was a small excess in muscle pain, but not rhabdomyolysis, in the statin-treated group.
Wow! 25% less chance of heart attack or stroke. Sounds pretty worthwhile. And HOPE-3 focussed on a population at 'intermediate risk'. So these are benefits that were shown to exist even where increased risk was only fairly modest. This caught my eye because you don't have to live with type 1 diabetes for long before people start telling you that you are going to die of a heart attack. That's what does for most of us, apparently. However perky your blood glucose management is generally, living with T1 you will almost certainly be having significant glucose excursions that 'nonnys' would never have. Of course you can significantly reduce your theoretical risk by keeping a lid on your blood glucose levels and HbA1c - but therein lies the snag for people trying to view any of this research and apply it to their own situation. Risk calculators don't work if you have T1. And primary prevention studies that take a cohort of people with a UK-average HbA1c of 9% or so, might have a different risk to you as an individual depending on your own fortunes wrestling the Diabetes Gremlins. Benefit shown to those at 'intermediate risk' was certainly interesting though. I've not had a heart attack, I'd like to keep it that way and I'm getting older year by year.

I had promised my clinic that I would continue to keep an open mind about the cholesterol issue, and perhaps this was it - the primary prevention study I had needed to convince me that it was worth trying a Statin and seeing how I got on with it, in the hope that my undoubted increased risk of heart-based shenanigans might be reduced by 25%.

The elephant in the room, of course, is the term 'relative risk'. Studies, particularly Statin studies, are quite keen on using that frame of reference as it usually gives a nice Big Attention Grabbing Number. So if your risk of something happening was 0.1% and it dropped to 0.08% it might sound pretty meagre. But you could express the same change as a 20% reduction in relative risk, which sounds much more weighty. Hmmmmmmm.

Hot on it's heels, if not chronologically but more in terms of the way I stumbled across things was this rather sensationalised tabloid reference to a study by Professor Harumi Okuyama, of Nagoya City University, Japan. This time, taking Statins can actually apparently *make things worse*. Harden your arteries and increase your risk of heart attack.

This was followed swiftly by this piece by Cardiologist and confirmed Statin sceptic Dr Aseem Malhotra which raises some well-worn questions over the entire evidence-base behind cholesterol-lowering drugs and the refusal of the companies to release the raw data on side-effects.
"biased reporting in medical journals, commercial conflicts of interest and medical curricula that fail to teach doctors how to understand and communicate health statistics was contributing to an epidemic of misinformed doctors and misinformed patients."
reputed French Cardiologist Dr Michel De Lorgeril's own analysis reveals that all studies published after 2006 reveal “no benefit” of statins for cardiovascular prevention in all groups of patients.
I'm not even going to open the can of worms that links Statins prescribed to people without heart disease and a doubling of their risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes. Frankly I have enough on my plate with the diabetes I already have.

And again here, from just this week. Another article that confidently suggests nails in the coffin of the cholesterol hypothesis.
Dr John Abramson, a health policy expert from Harvard Medical School, looked at the HOPE-3 trial and told me the effects were meagre indeed: “91 people have to be treated with a statin for 5.6 years in order to prevent 1 non-fatal heart attack or stroke.” Another way to say this is 90 of the 91 people who take statins for that long won’t see a benefit (and some will experience adverse side effects).
The observant among you will be smiling that exactly the same HOPE trial mentioned above with glowing 25% reductions in risk and very low side effects is now being interpreted as having almost no effect whatever *except* the possibility of side-effects. Though of course, for the 1 person out of 91, the 'not having had a heart attack' would probably be seen as quite a benefit. I wonder how you get to know that you are that 1 person and not one of the other 90. How exactly you notice that something is not happening to you because of a tablet rather than it just not happening to all the others.

And yet... and yet... Most doctors and scientists in the world seem to remain convinced of the link between heart health and lower cholesterol.

My basic problem
Over the last 4 or 5 years I have read a number of posts and articles from people who raise questions over the whole lipid/fat/cholesterol/heart hypothesis. I know that for some of you this will ring alarming tin-foil-hat klaxons, but articles like this (higher cholesterol associated with lower mortality overall *including* heart disease) and this (what causes heart disease anyway) are an entertaining read - and I cannot help it - but they do seem make a lot of sense to me.

I know that for some (many? most?) healthcare professionals some of these characters are a sort of... well, if not exactly laughing stock - certainly not voices to be taken seriously. People who insist that everyone else has it wrong and only they know the truth. Eyes roll. "OK then, if you say so. Never mind dear."

Perhaps it is precisely because I am not medically educated, that I have not learned and trusted the basics of the 'status-quo'. I have less invested in one way of thinking about cholesterol and heart health - and so it is easier for me to read these other arguments and think, 'Well that's interesting.'

Of course, proponents of the mainstream viewpoint will point to decades of scientific research and understanding that have brought us to where we are. For them the lipid-heart hypothesis is an unshakeable fact. And this or that or the other study* has shown that lowering cholesterol really does work. Most of their peers think the same. So take your tablets and feel safer.

*('Funded and published by the people that make the tablets!!' cry the sceptics)

And around and around I go...
  • Lots of studies over many years show (apparently) convincing benefit of Statins for heart disease with very low risk of side effects
  • Sceptics say the 'adverse event' data are under-reported and the pharma companies refuse to release the raw information for independent analysis
  • When it comes to secondary prevention (people who have already had a heart attack) the evidence is much clearer. Most people seem to agree that they work and work well
  • Even among cholesterol sceptics or neutrals there is a thought that it might be some activity of Statins other than cholesterol reduction (such as reduction of inflammation or stabilisation of plaques) that confer benefit
  • Statins are the most profitable drug in the history of the world - vested interest doesn't even begin to cover it
  • And yet I do not subscribe to the view that All Big Pharma Is Evil either - of course pharmaceuticals is a business and the companies have a requirement to make money for their stockholders - but I do think that it is in their interest to create 'products' actually help people, those will be much easier to shift after all
Climate change
The other day, all this made me think about climate change. A decade ago there was a funny little film by Davis Guggenheim and Al Gore called 'The Inconvenient Truth'. We don't even think about it much any more really. As I am sure many of you will remember, the eponymous 'truth' was that the actions of the human race had built up over time and were affecting the climate of the entire planet. Greenhouse gasses, climate change and all that. What struck me was the way that the voices that first raised these ideas from as early as 1896 were initially dismissed perhaps even ridiculed for their line of thinking. Not only that, but now that global warming has been firmly adopted into the scientific mainstream there are still contrary voices. Voices who will insist that for all the evidence that it is unmistakeably happening all around us that climate change is Nothing To Do With Us. That the whole thing is a hoax. A scam. Deniers who will wrap their arguments in convincing-seeming scientific language of planetary cycles, solar variation and internal radiative forcing. There's a conspiracy theory for everything it seems.

And I wonder where we are with cholesterol and heart health? Who is on which side? Will the ones who are being ridiculed ultimately turn out to have got it right? Or at least, made steps in the right direction? Will the mainstream position change in the light of more and better and more independent evidence? Or has the mainstream got it right already and are the cholesterol-deniers just confusing everyone.

I really wish I knew the answer. Because however many times I try to unpick this I always end up here. Shrugging and thinking... well I don't know! Which doesn't really do enough to convince me to take a tablet every day for the rest of my life.

Posted by on Friday, 10 June 2016

Dinkleflakes, diabetes, discussions and #DXStockholm

DxStockholm doesn't make sense, I'm pretty sure it doesn't actually exist. And if it *did* exist, then I'm almost certain I wouldn't make the list. It must be a particularly vivid dream, probably someone else's. I suspect Philippa's Dinkleflake-(me neither)-bacon-pancake-apple-sauce-and-double-cream breakfast is causing some sort of hallucination and I'm in it. Grand, wide, impeccable streets strewn with petals. Impossibly blue Scandinavian skies. More than two dozen storytellers with barely a beta cell between them, weaving tales in half a dozen languages. And yet, this time last week I was there.

But what is it for?

It is very easy to get cynical about these things. As a middle-aged Brit it's virtually compulsory. Any company that puts an event like this together obviously wants something. For all the compliance form-filling about not expecting anyone to write anything, surely it's just bribery plain and simple. Chuck 'em a few treats, show them some shiny new toys and let them spread the word for you through the FaceTwit-o-sphere.

Except that didn't happen.

Stockholm's 20's themed Haymarket Hotel, once a swanky department store

DxStockholm was the second of Abbott's European Blogger weekends. Last year saw one held in Berlin. There was an event in Sydney a month or two ago. I can't speak for the other events, but in Stockholm there was only one short session, led by Abbott's Principal Research Scientist Chris Thomas, that came anywhere close to mentioning product, and that was the only session where all participants were explicitly forbidden from saying anything about what they heard.

The rest of the weekend was an amazing opportunity to meet, mingle and share experiences among a group of bloggers from the UK, Germany, France, Holland, Sweden and Italy. A diverse bunch of people all at different stages of life, and at different points along their own unique diabetes journey (sorry... let's just all agree to forget that I actually used the 'J' word, apparently without irony, and never speak of it again). There was a programme of talks and interactive workshops that covered everything from personal creativity to the potential timing of being subjugated by our newly created super-intelligent hyper-machine overlords. We ate, we chatted, we shared, we learned, we laughed, we moved robot cat ears with the power of our minds.

I am hugely grateful to have been invited. Honoured doesn't begin to cover it.

DxStockholm really did feel like a genuine attempt on the part of Abbott to engage with the patient community. To support it and recognise it as a 'good thing', to encourage it and feed it. Living with a long term condition like type 1 diabetes is easier when you are walking alongside others. Where people can stand by you when you wobble, or understand the tiny, joyful victories of inexplicably well behaved BG levels after some food extravagance. The cloud of voices sharing their stories across Europe as grown enormously since we started writing this blog and I am proud to be a tiny part of that. In the same way that a building feels very different when you know that there is someone else in it - even if they are several rooms or floors away - my life with diabetes is more settled, easier to face, when I know I am connected in some abstract way with many others facing the same daily irritations, triumphs and disasters.

Abbott's theme for the weekend was 'My future, my choices', which led to a very engaging and interesting programme of content. If you'd like a really good summary of the weekend, with some cracking pictures this post by Jen Grieves is a good one. See also this, this, this or this. Honestly! Invite a bunch of bloggers to an event and suddenly you are up to your eyeballs in posts, all better than this one.

A few things that stood out to me over the weekend:
Stockholm is a really cool place. And it's always sunny. Always.

People are inherently creative, even if they don't think they are. Even the simplest snippets of conversation have a unique rhythm to them. Unique insight. Unique voice. You don't have to try too hard, or try to be like anyone else, or do what they do. You just have to be you. No-one on earth can do that like you can.

People and things.
The future is a really exciting place. Things, people and information are getting more seamlessly connected and the Next Big Thing is just around the corner. What sounded like crazy science fiction 5 years ago is happening now and will be everywhere soon. But all of this wearable technology, interconnectedness, captured data, stored knowledge and artificial intelligence has no moral compass. We will have to provide the ethical framework for this exponential future. Above all we will have to remember not to lose sight of the value of people (Dalai Lama quote in that pic rather sums this up).

BioHacking is alive and well outside the diabetes world just as it is with the #wearenotwaiting brigade. Hannes Sjoblad introduced BioHacking as 'science where n=1'. Which sounds very much like what people living with type 1 diabetes face every day. Personal experimentation, data collection and the quantified self. Being aware of what data can be collected and how it can be used for and against you.

Snapchat is apparently a thing. And I still really don't get it.

Mindfulness is relaxing, but not ideal in a warm room at the end of the day with an impromptu scooter rally collecting in the street below.

Separated at birth?
One of the funniest things in the world is waiting while a very hungry Grumpy Pumper is about to be served a handful of toasted cauliflower croutons on an enormous, elegant white soup plate before the (delicious) soup starter is poured. If you've ever wondered if that frown can get any more frowny... I can confirm the answer is a big, solid YES.

Other Europeans are amazing with languages and our laziness and lack of ability as a country makes me cringe. 

Type 1 diabetes likes nothing more that to bring you down to earth with a bump. On Friday, as I landed in Stockholm and stood to move from my seat I happened to notice a young girl in the row behind with a familiar-shaped disc on the back of her arm. It turned out to be one of the German bloggers Lisa - the very first person I met at #DxStockholm. We got chatting and ended up sharing a taxi to the hotel with a few others on the same flight. My German stretches about as far as "Lumpi ist mein hund", "ich bin zwölf jahre alt" and "sprechen sie Englisch" but we all managed to chat away in the taxi thanks to their rather better command of English. Just before breakfast on Sunday morning as people were gathering and chatting away, Lisa suddenly collapsed. A rapid and unexpected crash into hypoglycaemia really knocked her for six and she slumped by the buffet table. Of course, there are few places you could be where you would get more immediate and knowledgeable help, and Lisa was on the way to recovery before the paramedics arrived. But it served as a bit of a reality check to all of us. These events lurk in the corners of each of our lives and while we sometimes splash our insulin around with casual abandon, there is a real and present danger quietly hovering in the background. But even these events are part of our stories. The highs and lows of a life with type 1 diabetes.

As a community we are better together. Different voices, different experiences, different perspectives, different needs and hopes and aims. But all fundamentally connected by our wonky pancreases and our dark sense of humour. Put two or three people with diabetes in a room and they can talk for hours - even if none of them speak the same language.

Huge thanks to Abbott for the opportunity of taking part in #DxStockholm. It was an honour to meet so many amazing bloggers from all over Europe and to feel connected to a wider world.


Obligatory #DxStockholm Group Shot


More about #DxStockholm
A Storify summary by Eglantine LeRoi
Our future, our choices… and our f**king disease by Antje

Googlytranslatable posts...
Abbott DxStockholm by Lisa (including an account of *that* hypo)
About dextrose lulls exit row and more by Sarah
DxStockholm by Sofia

Disclaimer. Abbott Diabetes sponsored my attendance at #DxStockholm and paid for travel, accommodation and organised the event itself. They also treated us to a smashing dinner at Kung Carls Bakficka restaurant on Saturday night and provided a beautiful cookbook on swedish cuisine. I have not been asked, or paid to attend, write about or publicise the event - frankly I think they have been more than generous!

Posted by on Sunday, 29 May 2016

Appointments, priorities and the importance of buy-in

Well this is a bit unexpected - but I have been going through a bit of a weird patch over the last 8 weeks or so, and even though it's not one of the posts I have been struggling to get written for some time - I have decided to leapfrog this post ahead of the others and get it written while I it is still fresh in my mind.

Some ground rules before I start - I will try to keep the moaning to a minimum. Please bear in mind throughout that I really like my clinic, and value the opinion of the DSNs, Consultants and Registrars I see there. However, with something as complex, fickle and infuriating as type 1 diabetes, there will inevitably be some occasional differences in priorities, and sometimes this can lead to what we might call less-than-fun times. I believe it is crucial that any changes suggested in a clinic get genuine buy-in from the person with diabetes. And any previous negative experience of the suggested strategies needs to be given careful consideration.

To summarise 'life with diabetes' so far - I have always preferred to run on the low side than on the high side. Oddly enough the idea of dying with my feet still attached, functioning kidneys and still being able to see, rather appeals to me. Anyone who has read these witterings before will know that I have fought long and hard to reduce my exposure to hypoglycaemia, particularly Severe Hypos, with some success - I have not experienced severe hypoglycaemia for over 5 years now I think. What lows I still have are irritating, generally short lived and in the 3s. With a more serious couple in the 2s each month. But I do have more than I'd like. And I keep tabs on how many I am having each week/month to clamp on them if I start having more. The darkest shadow on my shoulder remains hypoglycaemia at night. Perhaps twice or three times a month I might drift below 4 and (according to Libre sensors) can stay there for several hours. This is a problem for me. It is a problem that the MM640G with sensors had pretty much entirely solved, but sadly that still remains out of my reach as a therapy option.

You may recall I wrote about a less than ideal appointment last Autumn. I confess I did not arrive at that appointment in the best of moods. As you will find, this is becoming something of a regrettable habit. Following that appointment, and full of all the encouragement that 'You are going to die of cardiac arrythmia' predictions will bring, I decided to tackle my lingering hypos more aggresively, particularly the overnight ones. I took more intense precautions in many more situations than I would have 'normally' done. Unfortunately, what I observed in my logs is that those lows are perilously hard to predict. I would take precautions using all my experience and judgement only to see my levels soar up into the teens overnight. Meanwhile I was still caught off-guard by lows when I least expected them. Nights with no obvious precipitating cause saw me wake up in the 3s. I kept it up for a good two or three weeks until I had got frustrated enough to stop. The percentage of lows per month was almost unchanged but my averages and variation went up markedly. I felt worse. I felt less on top of things. I went back to my 'normal' way.

But.

Of course, now I had let the cat out of the bag. In requesting access to sensors I had flagged up my problem to my clinic - and now they were worried about me. So I was called in for a more rapid three month follow-up appointment to see how I was getting on. Delayed by a couple of Junior Doctor strikes I actually went to my follow-up appointment on 13th April. We discussed the issues I had been having and their suggestion was blindingly simple - to take less insulin. I recounted my experience of trying to tackle these very overnight lows and how elusive they had been to tie down. That my attempts had made little difference to my monthly percentage of readings below 4, but had resulted in a significantly raised BG average, greater variation in results and raised HbA1c. Their opinion was that I had plenty of wiggle room in my A1c, which was (at that appointment) 6.7% - My opinion was more that the raised A1c and no significant reduction in the issue itself was less than satisfactory.

I wondered how high my A1c would have to be to prevent hypoglycaemia altogether (which appears to be their preferred scenario). Raising it by 11mmol/mol (1% in 'old' numbers) had done nothing - so how high would I have to go 8%? 9%? Oh no!!! not that high! Nowhere near... And yet I could not get past the thought that on the days when these overnight lows happen, I appear to need very little insulin overnight - to apply that approach to the other 28 or so nights in a month would inevitably result in consistently elevated BG levels.

I was given two options - to leave things as they were, or to try a small reduction overnight to see if it would help. They were persistent. Reluctantly I agreed. I suggested that simply dropping my basal pattern down one 'notch' would do nothing on those troublesome nights - if it was going to do anything it would have to be at least two notches (0.05u/hour).

My intention was to 'do it their way' for the next 6 months, and then go back for my next review.

The first night.
The problem
But herein lies the problem. I was reluctantly agreeing. I had tried this before and it had failed. I was not expecting it to work. In fact part of me was expecting it to fail. Perhaps even wanting it to fail? This was a problem I wanted to fix - but this did not feel like the right way to go about it. And the insistence that it was fine for my levels to be higher and my A1c to go up 'a bit' was not an encouragement - it felt like a separation between our priorities. To be clear, I know why they were suggesting it to me - from the outside it is almost something I can see myself recommending to someone else on a forum. I hate having these overnight lows. I want to be able to prevent them. But not at the cost of 90% of my overnight readings. I guess I felt trapped. Like I was doing something against my better judgement.

It probably didn't help that the first night did not exactly go brilliantly. 5.3mmol/L to 12.7mmol/L, and then a dip below 4 after lunch. A tried and tested lunch that I have eaten literally hundreds of times before. But I had decided to do it their way. So I continued.

And I am glad that I did. Because the second night showed a much lower rise. And two or three days later I *may* have dodged one overnight low because rather than a small (or very significant) rise in BG overnight I actually stayed almost level and woke at 5.5mmol/L.

I wish I could leave it there, with the problem more or less solved. But unfortunately that is not how it worked out.

Owning your own targets
I have talked before about the importance of owning your own targets - whatever you decide them to be. And here I was - trying to run my diabetes someone else's way. For all the right reasons, but following a plan of action that did not feel my own. Resisting my own management instincts to try to do it someone else's way. Watching my daily averages and glucose variation rise. Still experiencing a very similar number of low-level dips under 4.

And the more days that passed, the more the weight of running my diabetes against my instincts pressed down around me. As days turned to weeks any small early victories began to be swallowed by my rising, uncorrected, daily averages.

Type 1 diabetes is a grind. Type 1 diabetes is frustrating. Daily management can involve making hundreds of small interconnected decisions. And my aim is usually to attempt to get my BG levels to approximately mid-range by 3 or 4 hours after eating. Except now, I was aiming to avoid hypoglycaemia at all costs (not actually part of the original decision, but more reflective of multiple conversations over a number of years). So I was letting high BGs run. Sometimes all day. And still the lows peppered my results. Marginally less frequently perhaps... but adding insult to injury. Frustration grew. My mood darkened.

All in the mind?
After three or four weeks I knew I was struggling. But I had decided to run things their way for six months so I gritted my teeth and tried to carry on.

This was a mistake.

Way back in my diabetes dark-ages, there was a time where I would only test a couple of times every few days. It was not unheard of for Jane to ask me to test if I was behaving in an unsually grumpy, frustrated or short-tempered way. More often than not it transpired that I was running high. I find high BGs frustrating anyway, in that they usually suggest some sort of miscalculation on my part - but it seems that there may also be some physiological association for me between high BG levels and low mood, frustration, anger, dispair and feelings of helplessness.

Six weeks after my appointment I had reached the point where I was beginning to behave more erratically in response to my elevated BGs. I was either rage bolusing (significantly over-correcting out of sheer frustration) or rage snacking (eating rapid acting carbs without insulin in response to a moderately high BG - if I was going to be high, I might as well have 'earned' it). I was noticeably more angry and frustrated - it was beginning to impact on the family. I came to a point where I had to regain some balance.

And so I have switched back to doing things 'my way'. I'm not sure how much of this story I will share when I return to clinic in 3 months or so, as I really do not think they did anything particularly wrong. This post is more a question of me facing my own demons really, and how my reluctantly handing-over some of the control I had fought so hard to wrestle back from my diabetes, resulted in a spiral downwards towards disengagement and depression.

What have I learned?
  • Owning your targets is crucial. T1D is too frustrating to try to play to someone else's rules.
  • Where I recognise there are problems to address - I need to do it with strategies I actually believe have a chance of succeeding.
  • That reducing basal insulin such that I get a slight rise overnight is not a disaster and may, very occasionally dodge a period of low BG overnight.
  • That there are useful lessons I can learn from the first two weeks of the experiment which I can try to apply to my own self-management framework.
  • That agreeing to do something in order to demonstrate that it doesn't work is a very silly idea when it comes to T1 self-management.
  • That I need to be careful about my psychological and emotional state during periods of elevated blood glucose.
  • It's your diabetes - trust your instincts.
Thanks, as ever, for reading.

    Posted by on Saturday, 7 May 2016

    Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible

    Apologies for the interruption - the fluffy four-footed addition to our household has made finding time for blogging very difficult in recent months. Which is unfortunate really, because I have at least three or four posts waiting in the wings that I would really like to put together!

    We picked up our young Clumberdoodle pup at the beginning of April and time has absolutely flown by since. For a couple of months before Marvin's arrival we were busily DIYing and generally attempting to puppy-proof (ha!) the house and garden a little. It's all been a bit of a blur to be honest and reminded Jane and I of a heady combination of those weeks with a newborn babe, mixed in with a good dollop of toddler mischief and a hint of teenage experimentation and boundary-pushing. Fortunately Marvin is a dog who likes a nap, and can be persuaded to do pretty much anything for the promise of a bit of chicken or nibble of Schmacko.

    Around the middle of March I was chuffed to be invited by the wonderful Dr May Ng to speak at the North West Children and Young People's Network Education Day - if you'd like to get a glimpse of what went on I put together a Storify of the tweets. Alternatively, everyone's favourite Diabetes Dad, Kev Winchcombe wrote a great, but altogether far too modest blog post about the day. His talk was far more packed with laughs and interesting detail about diagnosis, transition, DIY APS and Nightscout than my blathering about spurious similarities between daily management of type 1 diabetes and Scalextric!

    In the coming months I am really hoping to post a follow up to my reflections on DPC2016 detailing what I picked up from Iain Cranston's fantastic presentation on interpreting CGM data and Ambulatory Glucose Profile reports.

    Additionally I have seen a number of conflicting reports/research about cholesterol and Statins in recent weeks and I'd really like to post something about that - if only to be able to process it a little myself.

    Thirdly, I am honoured to have been invited by Abbott to attend an event in Stockholm in June called 'Dx' which looks to be really very interesting indeed.

    Lastly I have been quietly working with a few other DOC legends (quite how I managed to scrape into their hallowed company is beyond me) on something I am only half-jokingly calling "Project Enormous". We hope that soon - perhaps in the next month or two - it will reach the point where we can release it into the wild and see if it has any 'legs', and lives up to the promise of the idea.

    Exciting times.

    Hope your BGs play fair in the meantime and thanks, as ever, for reading.

    Disclaimer. For my attendance at the North West Diabetes Network Education Day my travel and accommodation expenses were generously paid, but no speaker's fees were offered or received.

    Posted by on Thursday, 10 March 2016

    Your Diabetes May Vary (again!) - BG variation after food

    Two different carbohydrates, yesterday. (CC)
    Which would hit your bloodstream faster, a banana or a biscuit? Pure glucose or a slice of white bread?

    Well, in news that will come as a bit of a shock to some (and not at all to others), you can't actually know without checking for yourself.

    Anyone with diabetes who has spent much time monitoring blood glucose levels before and after meals (especially if they have then compared their results with anyone else), may well already be familiar with this conversation: Person A: "I find porridge is great in the morning, it releases really steadily until lunchtime"
    Person B: "Really?!? I can't go near porridge - it hits me like a train. All breakfast cereal does. Which is odd really, because Mars bars cause me no BG problems at all" etc etc. Rinse. Repeat.

    Well a recent study published in 'Cell' by the Weizmann Institute of Science has demonstrated once and for all what we pancreatically-challenged types have suspected for a long time. That blood glucose responses to different foods are infuriatingly and often bewilderingly individual.

    The study took 800 people without diabetes, around 54% of them were overweight and 22% classified as obese (with a BMI of over 30 kg/m2). They were connected to a Continuous Glucose Monitor for a week at a time, but the CGM was 'blinded' so participants had no way of seeing what was happening to their levels. CGM consists of a small sensor placed under the skin which records interstitial glucose values every 5 minutes, 24 hours a day. These values generally lag behind true blood glucose values by 10 minutes or so, but give a complete picture of what is happening before and after food and during sleep. People in the study recorded their food intake, levels of activity and so on using a smartphone app. They followed their normal routine, and ate as they normally would with the exception of breakfast, where they were assigned one of 4 standardised meals containing 50g of carbohydrate.

    If you have spent much time online, sharing experiences with people with diabetes you may get a nice warm fuzzy feeling of "Aha! I *knew* it!" at the results. Here are a few things that came out of the research that caught my eye:

    Responses to different foods were highly individual. Many people's BG rose rapidly after a standardised glucose meal as you would expect, but others were relatively untroubled by pure glucose, while eating bread sent their BG levels through the roof.

    A graph comparing two participants shows an almost exact inverse response between, for example, cookies and bananas. In the light of this, any lists of 'foods which release slowly' can only ever be viewed as a general guide. Your own response to any food could well be very different.

    In general, people who had higher BG responses after eating carried more weight than those with lower responses. The paper doesn't offer any thoughts as to whether these higher BGs make people put on weight, or whether the excess weight causes the elevated post-meal BGs, but in either case this association did not just occur at the extreme ends, but as a continuous range across the various weights.

    The highest post-meal responses 'significantly correlated' with elevated (but still non-diabetic) HbA1c, waking glucose level, BMI and also age - all known to be risk factors for developing Type 2 diabetes. It looks to me like these are people whose metabolisms are already beginning to struggle.

    Perhaps unsurprisingly, post-meal responses were shown to be very different to the same foods if eaten after resting/sleeping vs after exercising. Apparently the Pope is also Catholic.

    A 100 people took part in a further study which allowed the researchers to develop an algorithm that successfully predicted post-meal BG responses from a variety of clinical, physical and 'microbiome' (eg gut bacteria) factors. Personalised diets were then able to reduce post-meal BGs effectively. In the Diabetes Online Community we simply call this ‘eat to your meter’.

    The scientists wonder if working directly on reducing post-meal BGs would, over time, reduce some of the other associated risk factors including reducing weight, HbA1c and lowering risk of fatty liver disease.

    What do I think this means for me?
    Well first of all, it helps me realise that it's not just me being 'weird' after all. Different people really do react differently to different foods. Sometimes in completely inexplicable ways. I spent almost 20 years eating things that had been recommended as 'slow release' before beginning to systematically test my own responses to foods and discovering a few surprises and several absolute shockers that I had always believed were 'pretty safe'.

    In general, it is easy to see that the proportion of carbohydrate in a meal could have a fairly direct impact on post-meal BGs, but this research goes some way to explain many of those 'Huh??!?' moments, and demonstrates that there's a lot more to it than that for each individual.

    People make a lot of noise over 'low carb' vs 'high carb', but in truth, those definitions are of little interest to me. What I'm after is a varied, enjoyable, sustainable, LOW BG SPIKE diet that suits *me*. This research encourages me to continue looking for it.

    "Your Diabetes May Vary", and all that.