Acupuncture, Chinese Medicine and Diabetes
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a chronic disease wherein the body is unable to properly metabolize sugar. More than 9 million Canadians are living with diabetes or prediabetes. Diabetes can be fatal condition and often leads to disability and damage to organs, blood vessels, and nerves. Hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) is the main symptom of the disease. The percentage of people with diabetes is rising rapidly as obesity increases. Complications of diabetes include blindness, heart disease, circulation problems, kidney disease, eye disease, and erectile dysfunction.
Types and Symptoms of Diabetes
There are three primary types of diabetes.
Type 2 or “adult-onset” diabetes comprises 90% of diabetes cases. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body is unable to utilize insulin or produce enough insulin to control blood sugar levels. This leads to unbalanced blood sugar levels and symptoms including excessive thirst and urination, fatigue, and strong hunger, among other symptoms. Type 2 diabetes is associated with obesity and a high fat, high sugar diet. 90% of diabetics are overweight and older than 40. Insulin injections, dietary changes, exercise, and stress management are the primary forms of treatment. Diabetes drugs are used to treat complications. There can be side effects of diabetic drugs and they are often not effective at minimizing complications. Metformin and the TZD group of drugs are commonly used drugs. Many patients cannot use metformin or TZDs due to side effects.
In type 1 diabetes the insulin producing cells in the pancreas have been damaged by the body’s immune system. Type 1 diabetics are unable to produce insulin and require insul
in injections or else they will die. Approximately 10% of diabetes cases are type 1. Type 1 diabetes is usually considered a lifelong condition but Chinese medicine can help to reduce the need for insulin injections and reduce the severity and incidence of diabetic complications.
Gestational diabetes is usually a temporary condition that affects up to 5% of pregnancies. Gestational diabetes increases the diabetes risk for the child and the mother.
People with prediabetes have abnormal blood sugar levels and are at risk for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular complications. More than 57 million people in the US have prediabetes. It is the considered one of the largest and fastest rising health epidemics in the USA.
How does Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine Treat Diabetes?
Chinese medicine identified excess blood sugar as a symptom of diabetes over 1,300 years ago. Chinese medicine practitioners were able to diagnose diabetes using ants. The practitioner would leave a urine sample close to an ant colony. If the ants were attracted to the urine the practitioner knew there was excess sugar in the blood. Ancient Chinese medicine had many effective herbal treatments including pig pancreas. Chinese medicine has identified over 20 acupuncture points that can help control blood sugar symptoms. Modern Chinese medicine has integrated Western scientific research, and many very effective acupuncture and herbal treatments have been developed.
Chinese Medicine Patterns
Chinese medicine considers diabetes to be a “Thirsting and Wasting” disease that is caused by deficiencies in the kidney/adrenal, pancreas, and lung organ/glandular systems. The key symptoms include thirst, weight loss or gain, fatigue, and sugar in the urine. Chinese medicine practitioners recommend a combination of Western and Chinese medicine to treat diabetes. The Chinese medicine practitioner focuses on strengthening the body and managing long-term symptoms with acupuncture and herbs. Acupuncture is also used to control blood sugar levels.
There are many different TCM disease patterns that can develop for diabetics and a differential Chinese medicine diagnosis is necessary to determine the exact syndrome. Yin deficiency is a common pattern in diabetes and is caused by stress, overeating, and fatigue. Heat and dryness in the lungs and stomach are also common patterns.
Yin deficiency diabetes symptoms include
- heat in the chest, soles and palms
- dry mouth and tongue
- sore lower back
- frequent urination
Lung and stomach heat and dryness symptoms include
- frequent sensations of hunger and thirst
- dry tongue and mouth
- frequent urination
It is important to get a thorough diagnosis from a Chinese medicine practitioner to determine the exact syndromes that are causing the diabetes.
Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine treatment of Diabetes
Chinese medicine treatments include dietary therapy, stress reduction (meditation), exercise and qi gong, acupuncture and herbal medicine.
Acupuncture is effective at controlling blood sugar levels, reducing appetite and thirst, improving blood flow and circulation, and preserving nerve function. There are 20 commonly used acupuncture points that help to control blood sugar levels.
Acupuncture is an excellent treatment for assisting younger people more recently diagnosed with diabetes in controlling blood sugar levels. Acupuncture can help to manage cholesterol levels which reduce the cardiovascular complications of diabetes. Peripheral neuropathy can be managed with acupuncture.
Acupuncture treatments for diabetics are usually on-going and used long-term to manage symptoms of diabetes. Treatments are recommended 1-2 times per week in relation to blood sugar levels and symptoms. Acupuncture is usually combined with herbal remedies for best results.
You can use acupressure on yourself at home to assist with diabetes treatments. All bladder channel points are helpful.
To assist Kidney/Adrenal organ systems
Acupuncture points: Kidney 3 and 6
To assist Stomach and Pancreas organ systems
Acupuncture points: Spleen 6, Spleen 9 and Stomach 36
For information on how to find these points and the specific acupuncture treatment protocols please visit Yin Yang House – Acupuncture for Diabetes – Treatment Protocols
There are many Chinese herbs that are used to treat diabetes and control blood sugar. The herbs are usually part of a formula. Some of the herbs used to treat diabetes include Gymnema Sylvestre, fenugreek and American ginseng. There are specific herbal formulas for complications of diabetes like cataracts and peripheral neuropathy.
How effective is acupuncture and Chinese Medicine for Diabetes?
Chinese Medicine has used herbal medicines to treat diabetes for thousands of years. Science has been investigating many of the herbs of used in the Chinese medicine formulas. Studies have recently found that berberine has insulin-sensitizing effects. Many other Chinese herbs have been used successfully for thousands of years to treat and reduce the associated symptoms of diabetes. Traditional Chinese Medicine for Diabetes Has Scientific Backing
Recent studies that included 1,391 people showed that Chinese herbal formulas helped to control blood sugar in people with prediabetes at high risk of developing diabetes. Chinese herbs show promise for diabetes prevention
Can Western and Chinese Medicine be used together for Diabetes?
In China acupuncture and herbal medicine are used with traditional Western diabetes drugs like insulin injections. The combination of Western, acupuncture and Chinese medicine treatments for diabetes is more effective than either on their own. Chinese herbs and acupuncture treatments can help to reduce pharmaceutical medication dosages and reduce the side effects.
Chinese Medicine Diet and Lifestyle Tips
A simple tea that can be made at home can help some of the symptoms of diabetes. Simmer 120g of dried Chinese yam (shan yao) in water and drink throughout the day.
Nine flavour tea pills are a helpful remedy for diabetes with a yin deficiency pattern. Nine flavour tea pills are available from Chinese medicine practitioners. This remedy helps the adrenal glands and kidneys, and addresses symptoms like heat, lower backache, and excessive thirst and urination.
Beneficial foods that clear heat and nourish the body’s fluids include spinach, turnips, pears, soybeans, millet, Chinese yam, water chestnuts, mung beans, and sea cucumbers. Bitter melon helps to control blood sugar levels. Avoid hot and spicy foods and alcohol.