Diabetes is a chronic, degenerative condition that continues to increase in frequency among children and adults in the United States. Statistics released in early 2011 by the American Diabetes Association show that 25.8 million children and adults in the United States, or 8.3% of the population have diabetes. It is estimated that 1.3 million people in the US will be diagnosed this year alone.
There are two types of diabetes: Type 1 diabetes (diabetes mellitus) is usually diagnosed in children and young adults. In type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin. Type 1 diabetics are insulin dependent.
Type 2 diabetes (adult on-set) is the most common form of diabetes affecting more than 15 million Americans. In type 2 diabetes, the body does not use insulin properly causing it to build up in the bloodstream. The build up of insulin can lead to complications such as heart disease, hypertension, eye problems, kidney disease, nervous system disease, periodontal disease, amputation, fatigue, depression, Alzheimer's disease and osteoporosis.
While diabetes is generally a long-term condition, diabetics can manage their condition and live long, healthy lives with appropriate medical treatment and healthy life-style changes. Acupuncture and Chinese herbs can play a significant role in a comprehensive treatment plan to manage diabetes and its symptoms, and potentially reduce the need for medication.
Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine have been used to treat diabetes for over 2000 years. In Chinese medicine, diabetes is referred to as ” wasting and thirsting disease,” an imbalance of Qi and Yin that produces heat and depletes the body's fluids causing heat-like symptoms: excessive thirst, irritability, swollen gums, itchy skin and dry mouth.
During an acupuncture treatment, fine needles are inserted into specific points on the body to restore the flow of Qi and nourish Yin (fluids). The treatment for diabetes focuses on regulating the circulation of blood and Qi, improving pancreatic function, addressing internal heat and depletion of fluids.
Chinese herbal medicine is an important component in the treatment of diabetes. The following are a few examples Chinese herbal formulas that are typically used in conjuction with acupuncture to treat diabetes and its symptoms. Because not all formulas are appropriate for every individual, it is important that you consult with a knowledgeable healthcare provider before including them in your treatment plan.
• Da Chai Hu Tang (Major Bupleurum Decoction). This herbal formula reduces the rate at which glucose enters the bloodstream and increases the efficiency of insulin. It is especially useful if diabetes occurs with long-term gastrointestinal disorders.
• Xiao Chai Hu Tang (Minor Bupleurum Decoction). This herbal formula reduces the rate at which glucose enters the bloodstream after meals. It is especially useful if diabetes occurs with HIV or as a complication of hepatitis infection.
• Bai Hu Jian Ren Sheng Tang (White Tiger Plus Ginseng Decoction). Helps to lower sugar levels by increasing the amount of sugar stored in the liver. It relieves symptoms such as fever, general discomfort, general weakness, great thirst, profuse sweating, and restlessness.
• Liu Wei Di Huang Tang (Six Ingredient Pill with Rehannia). Treats symptoms that may accompany diabetes such as: vertigo, tinnitus, poor hearing, night sweats, heat in the five palms (hands, feet, a / or chest), weak low back, light headedness.
Other natural therapies for diabetes include dietary changes, exercise, and nutritional supplementation are very effective in managing type 1 and type 2 diabetes, and may possibly reverse pre-diabetes.
• Eat 3 meals a day at regular times. Keep portions moderate.
• Eat a low-fat, organic whole foods diet that is rich in fish, chicken, vegetables, fruit, and whole grains. This diet is rich in essential fatty acids, antioxidants, and fiber. Fiber will help reduce blood sugar surges.
• Avoid refined carbohydrates: white flour, candy, fruit juice, and soda pop. Natural sweeteners that do not adversely affect blood glucose levels such as stevia and xylitol are available at health food stores.
• Avoid saturated fats, simple sugars (except when it is necessary to balance an insulin reaction), caffeine, and alcohol.
• Many diabetics will notice better glucose control by having a small proportion of protein at every meal.
• Juice therapy is also beneficial. Drink the juice of one lime in a glass of water daily.
• Follow a regular exercise program to help reduce insulin and glucose levels, shrink fat cells, and make glucose control more effective. Do 30 minutes of gentle exercise, like walking or yoga, daily.
The following foods may also play an important role in helping patients manage diabetes when included in a healthy diet. Most are readily available in Asian markets and health food stores.
• Black wood ear. This mushroom-like fungus has a neutral taste and adds a pleasant crunch to dishes. It should be soaked in warm water then added to soups, stir-fried dishes, or lightly cooked and added to salads. In Chinese diet therapy, the black wood ear nourishes the Yin and generates fluids.
• Bitter melon is a vegetable that looks like a bumpy cucumber. It is available in Asian markets. To avoid bitterness use it while still green. It can be salted and rinsed before use. Studies suggest that bitter melon contains a compound that moderates blood sugar, making it useful in helping control type 2 diabetes.
• Bok choy. This member of the cage family has a crunchy white stem and dark green leaves. To use in stir-fries, cook the stems and leaves separately, as the stems need additional cooking time. It is high in fiber, Vitamins A and C. In Chinese diet therapy is used to clear heat, quench thirst and lubricate the intestines.
• Chinese yam (mountain yam). In Chinese diet therapy the Chinese yam is recommended for long-term use to increase vitality for those recovering from illness or weakened by old age. Chinese yams may also play a role in managing diabetes. Scientific studies have shown a decrease in blood glucose levels in mice eating the vegetable.
• Cinnamon. Scientists suggest that cinnamon can help control blood sugar making it useful in managing diabetes. It also has anti-bacterial properties. In Chinese medicine, it is used to treat abdominal pain, reduced appetite, and diarrhea, increase vitality, and alleviate pain.
• Pumpkin and winter squash. These are members of the squash family with a tough outer rind and sweet orange flesh. Research suggests a compound in Asian pumpkins improves insulin levels and lowers blood sugar. In Chinese tradition, the pumpkin is also considered good for people with diabetes. Can be used in soups, stir-fries and conges.
In addition to making healthy lifestyle choices, it is important to create a support team of health care professionals including primary care physician, eye doctor, nurses, a dietician and a license acupuncturist or Doctor of Oriental Medicine.