The most common type of nerve damage afflicting diabetes mellitus patients is called peripheral neuropathy. Although many things can cause peripheral nerve damage, such as injuries, infections and environmental toxins, when it occurs in a diabetic patient, it is due to high levels of sugar in the bloodstream.
Neuropathy is defined as an abnormal state of the nervous system. The word mellitus is a Latin word meaning sweet. Sweet blood may not sound like a bad thing, but in reality it is a medical problem that can produce serious consequences. Nerve damage typically starts at the feet and legs and then progresses to the hands and arms. The most common symptoms of peripheral neuropathy affecting these parts of the body are:
- Numb, tingling, burning or painful sensations
- Inability to sense temperature changes
- Ultrasensitive to the point where light clothing and bed sheets can cause pain
- Muscle weakness
- Diminished reflexes
- Lack of balance and coordination
- Ulcers and serious infections, especially on the feet
These symptoms manifest due to high amounts of glucose circulating in the bloodstream eroding away the fine network of nerves. Nerves are delicate structures that send messages between the brain and other parts of the body. For example, a sensory nerve in the finger will transmit a signal to the brain when it touches something very hot. In turn, the brain will relay back a message to quickly remove the finger. However, a patient suffering from diabetic peripheral neuropathy may not register the sensation of hot, or not have the proper reflexes or coordination to remove their fingers from danger.
According to the theory of acupuncture and Oriental medicine, symptoms of diabetic peripheral neuropathy may result from a spleen deficiency. The spleen organ plays a key role in digestion because it is responsible for extracting valuable nutrients from food. It separates the precious substances from the heavy, turbid portion and sends each to the appropriate place. In this way, food is transformed and transported to nourish the whole body. However, when the spleen fails in its function to transform, dampness may occur.
Dampness is the pathological buildup of viscous fluids. Sometimes it is visible, as in the case of a runny nose, and other times it is deep within the body. An overweight person may suffer from a damp condition and therefore finds it difficult to lose weight. The keywords describing dampness are heavy and sluggish, the opposite of what body fluids should be. Ingesting too much sugar, fats, and fried foods can injure the spleen and lead to a condition of internal dampness.
When a deficient spleen results in an accumulation of dampness, the peripheral nerves may be stifled and prevented from functioning properly. In order to help restore these functions, it is necessary to receive acupuncture treatments that drain dampness. Certain modifications to the diet may be recommended as well as regular acupuncture treatments.
The use of an acupuncture point located on the spleen channel, called 'Yin Mound Spring', is ideal for helping the body drain dampness. When 'Yin Mound Spring' is needled by your practitioner, the harmful buildup of fluids will start to be eliminated, usually via the urinary system. As the blockages impinging on the peripheral nerves abate, symptoms of peripheral neuropathy will also abate.
To further support the process of draining dampness, simple diet changes may help. Eating at regular times and avoiding overeating are excellent ways to start. When sugar cravings strike, consider a dessert made from sweet potatoes or yams. Either bake or boil these sweet tubers and experiment by adding garnishes such as a drizzle of honey, chopped nuts, or dried fruits. Serving them warm makes it even easier for the spleen to digest.
If you have been diagnosed with diabetic peripheral neuropathy or currently have a diabetic condition and notice strange symptoms occurring in your extremities (i.e. hands, feet, arms and legs), contact a practitioner of acupuncture and Oriental medicine near you today!
About the Author: Vanessa Vogel Batt, L.Ac., MSTOM, studied at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, and practiced acupuncture and Oriental medicine in New York for several years. Vanessa enjoys traveling the world, and has published articles on acupuncture and Oriental medicine and related health topics for websites and publications in both the U.S. and abroad.