Understanding Gestational Diabetes and How It Affects Pregnancy
Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that can develop for some women (about 4%), generally between the 24th to 28th week of pregnancy, and then disappear after childbirth. The digestive system breaks down most food into a type of sugar called glucose. The glucose enters the bloodstream and then, with the help of insulin (a hormone made by the pancreas), provides energy for the cells of the body. During pregnancy, however, hormones secreted by the placenta make it tougher for the woman’s body to use insulin, so the pancreas needs to produce more of it. For most moms-to-be, this isn’t a problem. As the need for insulin increases, the pancreas dutifully secretes more of it. But when a woman’s pancreas can’t keep up with the insulin demand and the glucose stays in the blood instead of moving into the cells to be converted to energy, the result is high blood glucose levels (hyperglycemia) and the condition is gestational diabetes.
Generally, gestational diabetes may not cause any symptoms; however, the woman may experience excessive weight gain, excessive hunger or thirst, excessive urination, or recurrent vaginal infections. It is worth noting that most women who have gestational diabetes deliver healthy babies. However, untreated or uncontrolled blood sugar levels can lead to potential complications during pregnancy and delivery, like: excessive growth of the baby (requiring a cesarean delivery), post-partum hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) for mother and/or baby, jaundice in the baby, and type 2 diabetes for the mother later in life. Most women with gestational diabetes don’t remain diabetic once the baby is born. Once a woman has had it, though, she is at higher risk for getting it again during a future pregnancy and for becoming diabetic later in life.
How Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture Treat Gestational Diabetes
In ancient China, diabetes was called the “emaciation-thirst (xiao ke) disease.” Chinese medicine focuses on treating the kidneys and supporting the spleen. The spleen affects the systems involved in digestion/absorption/metabolism, including the pancreas, gastrointestinal tract, liver, kidney, nerves, and gut hormones. Overall digestive/absorptive/metabolic function is called the “spleen-vital energy.” Vital energy functions when nutrients are digested, absorbed, and metabolized with the cooperation of blood circulation. Therefore, if there is no circulation of the blood, vital energy cannot function. If deficiency of the digestive/absorptive/metabolic function occurs, a circulatory disorder that is called blood stagnation, or blood stasis, will develop and will promote metabolic disorders, including a stabilized blood sugar level. Chinese medicine focuses on restoring proper blood circulation to correct any vital energy dysfunctions.
The kidneys are treated because kidneys contain important physiological substances (yin). A couple of key symptoms for diabetes are excessive thirst and urination due to kidney yin deficiency. Yin deficiency and heat can consume energy (Qi) and fluids in the body, and even lead to a “thickening” of the blood. Therefore, patterns of disharmony, such as Qi deficiency, lead to symptoms of fatigue. And blood stasis leads to circulatory disorders and irregular water metabolism in the body. To treat both the spleen and kidney systems, Chinese medicine uses acupuncture, Chinese herbs, reproductive organ massage (ROM), and Nutritional guidance.
Acupuncture is used to reduce thirst, frequent urination, sugar cravings, and to balance the hormones and insulin levels. It focuses on restoring proper blood circulation to correct vital energy dysfunctions. Acupuncture also relieves stress and corrects disruptions in the flow of the body’s energy, returning the body to good health.
Chinese herbs have been traditionally used for Wasting and Thirsting Syndrome. The main functions of these herbs are to help to stabilize blood sugar levels and improve metabolic functions by strengthening the spleen (pancreas) and kidneys. Modern scientific research indicates that even though the ancient Chinese were unable to monitor blood sugar levels for diabetic patients, the herbs they used for treating those patients were indeed very effective.
Reproductive organ massage is a highly specialized form of therapeutic massage that manipulates the fascia of the pelvic cavity to unblock any obstructions and improve the blood flow to these organs. By skillfully kneading the body’s tissue, massage can stimulate better blood movement around the body. Improved circulation can do wonders for diabetic neuropathy and other diabetes-related complications.
Nutritional guidance recommends eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day (eat every 3-4 hours). Diet should consist of whole grains, fresh fruit, and vegetables, as well as low to medium glycemic foods. Exercise should be done for 20 minutes following any meal.
How Western Medicine Treats Gestational Diabetes
Western medical treatment for gestational diabetes, like Chinese medicine, aims to keep blood glucose levels equal to those of pregnant women who don’t have gestational diabetes. Treatment for gestational diabetes always includes special meal plans, scheduled physical activity, and maintaining a healthy pregnancy weight. It may also include daily blood glucose testing and insulin injections. Treatment for gestational diabetes can be changed as needed and should be monitored closely by your doctor and health care team.