What is Diabetes?
In 2012, 29.1 million Americans, or 9.3% of the population, had diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. Diabetes is a condition in which the body does not properly process food for use as energy. Most of the food we eat is turned into glucose, or sugar, for our bodies to use for energy. The pancreas, an organ that lies behind the stomach, makes a hormone called insulin to help glucose transfer to the cells of our bodies for energy. When people eat, the pancreas automatically produces the right amount of insulin to move glucose from blood into the cells.
In people with diabetes, however, the pancreas either produces little or no insulin, or the cells do not respond appropriately to the insulin that is produced. Glucose builds up in the blood, overflows into the urine, and passes out of the body in the urine. Thus, the body loses its main source of fuel even though the blood contains large amounts of glucose. Over time, the extra sugar in the blood can damage your eyes, heart, blood vessels, nerves, and kidneys, resulting in cardiovascular disease, blindness, nerve disease, kidney failure, and even death.
Types of Diabetes
Type 1 Diabetes is an autoimmune disease. An autoimmune disease results when the body’s system for fighting infection, the immune system, turns against a part of the body. In diabetes, the immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. The pancreas then produces little or no insulin. A person who has type 1 diabetes must take insulin daily to live. Type 1 diabetes accounts for about 5 to 10 percent of diagnosed Diabetes in the United States. It develops most often in children and young adults but can appear at any age.
Type 2 Diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. About 90 to 95 percent of people with diabetes have type 2. This form of diabetes is most often associated with older age, obesity, a family history of diabetes, previous history of gestational diabetes, physical inactivity, and certain ethnicities. When type 2 diabetes is diagnosed, the pancreas is usually producing enough insulin, but for unknown reasons the body cannot use the insulin effectively, a condition called insulin resistance. After several years, insulin production decreases. The result is the same as for type 1 diabetes—glucose builds up in the blood and the body cannot make efficient use of its main source of fuel.
Gestational Diabetes is a temporary form of insulin resistance that usually occurs halfway through a pregnancy as a result of excessive hormone production from the placenta, and the pancreas’ inability to make the additional insulin that is needed during some pregnancies in women without a previous history of type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Gestational diabetes usually goes away after pregnancy, but women who have had gestational diabetes are at an increased risk for later developing type 2 diabetes.
Symptoms of Diabetes
A physician should properly diagnose people who suspect they have diabetes. They may experience some or none of the following symptoms:
- Frequent urination
- Excessive thirst
- Excessive hunger
- Unusual weight loss
- Extreme fatigue
- Blurred vision
- Cuts or bruises that are slow to heal
- Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet
- Recurring skin, gum or bladder infections
How Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture Treat Diabetes
Acupuncture and herbal medicine have been used to treat diabetes for over 2000 years. A patient with “Xiao Ke” or “wasting and thirsting disease” (the traditional Chinese medical term for diabetes) is discussed in detail in the Nei Jing, a classic Chinese medical book written about 2,500 years ago. The patient is described as having symptoms of excessive hunger and thirst, frequent urination and rapid weight loss- all symptoms of diabetes.
In treating diabetes, Chinese medicine offers a way to address each patient individually to eliminate the symptoms associated with diabetes and reduce the need for insulin. The practitioner may choose to use a variety of techniques during treatment including acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, bodywork, lifestyle/dietary recommendations and energetic exercises. The treatment for diabetes will focus on regulating the circulation of blood and Qi and balancing the organ systems to improve pancreatic function and address internal heat and the depletion of fluids.
Acupuncture: The acupuncture points used to treat diabetes are all over the body and on several meridians. A point on the back, called ‘Yishu‘ (located on the back, lateral to thoracic vertebrae 8) is often used and has proven effective in recent studies published by the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine for controlling the function of the pancreas and blood sugar levels in diabetic patients.
Chinese herbal medicine is an important component to the treatment of diabetes. The herbs are used to strengthen your kidneys, spleen, and pancreas. Additional herbs may be added for stomach and lung function that may be associated with your particular pattern of diabetes. When we can get a deep understanding of diabetes and the symptoms it causes, we can then use customized herb formulas. There are several well-known herbs known to stabilize blood sugar and address insulin and glucose levels circulating throughout the body. Several over the counter supplements will also be discussed based on your symptoms, and used to control cravings for sugar, address weight concerns, and balance the endocrine system.
Nutritional Guidance:We will use the glycemnic index, and discuss your glycemic load, as well as recommend which foods in Traditional Chinese medicine that are known to help your type or pattern of diabetes.
How Western Medicine Treats Diabetes
Treatment typically includes diet control, healthy eating, physical exercise, home blood glucose testing, oral medication and/or insulin injections to keep blood glucose levels in balance.
Research and Related Articles on Diabetes
Effect of qiangyi jiangtang capsules on diabetes mellitus model rats [Article in Chinese]
Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. 2005 Dec;25(12):1109-11.
Efficacy analysis on type 2 diabetes mellitus treated with acupuncture in females [Article in Chinese]
Zhongguo Zhen Jiu. 2014 Jan;34(1):21-4.