Managing diabetes with herbs and acupuncture
Tracey-Ann Brown, Complementary & Oriental Medicine
So you have made it through the guilt of fruitcakes, ham, 'enhanced sorrel' and all the rich foods abundant during the holiday season, and part of your new year's resolution is to manage your diabetes a little better.
While there is no cure for diabetes, Chinese medicine can help in its management alongside conventional drugs, or alone, depending on the severity of the condition. The main goal is to reduce blood glucose to within normal ranges while addressing the accompanying symptoms.
Some of the signs and symptoms of Type One and Type Two diabetes include: increased thirst, frequent urination, extreme hunger, unexplained weight loss, presence of ketones in the urine (the byproduct from the breakdown of muscle and fat which occurs when there's not enough insulin), fatigue, blurred vision, slow-healing sores, high blood pressure and frequent infections, such as gum or skin infections and vaginal or bladder infections.
Additionally, long-term complications of diabetes may include:
- Cardiovascular disease - including coronary artery disease, heart attack, stroke and narrowing of the arteries.
- Nerve damage (neuropathy) - This can cause tingling, numbness, burning or pain that usually begins at the tips of the toes or fingers and gradually spreads upward. For men, it may lead to erectile dysfunction.
- Kidney damage.
- Eye damage - such as cataracts and glaucoma.
- Foot damage - cuts and blisters left untreated can become serious infections and, if severe, may require toe, foot or leg amputation.
- Skin and mouth conditions - increased susceptibility to skin problems, including bacterial and fungal infections.
- Alzheimer's disease - Type Two diabetes may increase the risk of Alzheimer's disease.
- Cancer - People with diabetes have a higher risk of some cancers.
In Chinese medicine, diabetes is often treated as a yin deficiency (empty fire) condition, especially characterised by symptoms such as: increased thirst, extreme hunger, weight loss, fatigue, blurred vision, brittle bones and numbness, tingling and burning in the extremities. The treatment plan is to: nourish the fluids of the body and clear heat in order to relieve these symptoms. Herbal formulas comprising herbs such as: Hei Zhi Ma (sesame seed), Li Zhi He (lychee seed), Ren Shen (ginseng root) and Wu Mei (fructus Mume) are selected to reduce blood-glucose levels and are taken daily.
As in the case of herbal formulas, blood-glucose levels and accompanying yin deficiency symptoms are assisted by acupuncture treatments, particularly in very severe cases. Very thin acupuncture needles are inserted in the selected acupuncture points related to the accompanying symptoms and gently stimulated.
In managing diabetes, lifestyle modifications are very important. A balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes at regular intervals is essential, with limited amounts of saturated fat, alongside a consistent exercise plan. If overweight, just shedding excess weight can make a huge difference.
Dr Tracey-Ann Brown is an oriental medicine practitioner, herbalist and doctor of acupuncture; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.