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Managing Diabetes with Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine

By: Vanessa Vogel Batt L.Ac. MSOM

Diabetes is a complex disease which challenges the body in many ways. Explained in the simplest terms, diabetes is a metabolic disease that prevents your body from using sugar properly, causing blood sugar levels to remain high. A normal pancreas produces sufficient amounts of the hormone insulin, which is responsible for helping glucose, or blood sugar, to enter into cells. It is in this way that your body's cells receive the energy necessary to sustain life. When this process is blocked due to a deficiency of the pancreas or other reason, diabetes ensues bringing a host of signs and symptoms. Some common signs and symptoms of diabetes include frequent urination, excessive thirst, excessive eating, extreme fatigue, slow healing of cuts and wounds, infections, irritability, tingling or numbness in the extremities, and blurry vision.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 4 people remain unaware that they live with diabetes. Sometimes the body will give warning signs that help your physician or acupuncture and Oriental medicine practitioner make an early diagnosis. It is important to get a diagnosis as soon as you suspect that diabetes may be a problem for you, as untreated diabetes affects the whole body and can lead to the following medical problems, including heart disease, kidney failure, blindness, peripheral neuropathy, digestive disorders and periodonatal disease.

The most common types of diabetes are Type 1, Type 2 and gestational diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is also known as insulin-dependent diabetes and usually presents in childhood. In this case the body doesn't produces any of its own insulin and must permanently rely on medication. Approximately 10 percent of diabetics are Type 1.  Type 2 diabetes often arises in adulthood and is also called insulin-resistant diabetes. In some cases, the pancreas remains capable of producing insulin but the uptake into the cells remains slow and inefficient. About 90 percent of diabetes patients have Type 2.  Gestational diabetes occurs solely during a woman's pregnancy.  Usually it resolves after she gives birth, but it may leave her more vulnerable to develop Type 2 diabetes.

Offering a holistic approach that is beneficial in the treatment of such complicated diseases like diabetes, Acupuncture and Oriental medicine provides a treatment plan specifically tailored to the needs of each individual to provide relief of the symptoms associated with diabetes. That being said, the fundamental problem that is common among most diabetic patients arises from a long-standing deficiency of yin.

Managing Yin and Yang in Diabetes

Yin refers to the qualities of nurturing, cooling and supporting. It is represented by the feminine aspects such as the moon, night-time and winter. Yin is the natural complement to yang. Yang is an active, warming force represented by masculine qualities such as the sun, daytime and summer. Both yin and yang metaphorically represent the two forces of constant change occurring in all things, at all times. When you engage in a yang activity, such as running, eventually the yin principles of contraction and rest take hold and you either take a rest or your body collapses.

For diabetic patients, yang is represented by heat and dryness, which consumes the moisturizing and cooling yin. This dynamic particularly affects the lungs, stomach, spleen and kidneys, which, with the exception of the stomach, are yin organs. Yin organs primarily store, produce and transform vital substances such as qi (energy), blood and body fluids. The yang organs primarily provide nutrients for the body. Some yang organs include the small and large intestines, and the bladder.  When lung yin consumption occurs, it can cause extreme thirst. Stomach yin consumption results in extreme hunger, while kidney yin consumption yields abundant, excess urination. Heat is generated internally due to many things. Contributing factors include emotional stress, overworking and poor diet.

Poor diet includes the eating of low quality food and irregular mealtimes. This greatly impacts the spleen and stomach whose element is the earth and finds great comfort in regularity and ritual. This means your body digests best when consuming nutritious foods at regular times. Nutritious food does not include fatty, sugary or greasy items. Nor does it include alcohol, caffeine or very hot drinks as these tend to dry up yin. Where there is a deficit of yin, there is likely a yang excess.

Approximately 85 percent of diabetic patients are overweight and 30 percent of the overall overweight population suffers from diabetes. This indicates the importance of maintaining a safe weight through healthy eating and exercise. Acupuncture and Oriental medicine can help you reduce your weight through regular acupuncture treatments and dietary recommendations.  

In the meantime, if you feel concerned about being overweight or if you experience sweet cravings, try following the advice of two Chinese proverbs regarding weight management.

Better to go 3 days without eating than go 1 day without tea.
Although it is not being suggested that one must fast, the emphasis of this proverb is on the importance of warm tea. Green tea or a non-caffeinated tea taken after each meal can help your spleen and stomach perform their digestive functions better. Green tea especially helps break down fat so that it may be processed and eliminated more quickly. There is evidence that it helps stabilize blood sugar and reduce high cholesterol levels.

100 paces after each meal will allow one to live a healthy 100 years.
This reveals the importance of light exercise after eating. A short walk after each meal can start the 'digestive fire' necessary for proper digestion. The spleen is responsible for the transforming and transporting of valuable nutrients for the whole body. When this function falters, bloating and discomfort may occur after eating. The diabetic patient is more prone to suffer these consequences, so a light walk and a warm (not hot) cup of green tea after meals is a good practice to help support your spleen.

Whether you are diagnosed with diabetes or feel you may be in danger of developing it, acupuncture and Oriental medicine offers an opportunity to help manage your symptoms.

Contact a practitioner near you to learn more!

Learn more about acupuncture and Oriental medicine for diabetes and related conditions!

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.

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