Diabetes is a common problem in the western world. An increase in sedentary lifestyles coupled with easy access to high-fat, high-calorie food has led to rising rates of obesity. This is a leading cause of type 2 diabetes, the most widespread form of the disease.
One of the best ways to manage diabetes is through eating a healthy diet and taking regular exercise. However, there are plenty of other things that can help.
In this article, we take a look at acupuncture for diabetes, and how this ancient therapy could help with this modern-day epidemic.
Diabetes in Chinese Medicine
From a western point of view, most people know that diabetes is related to low insulin levels or insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone that the pancreas produces, and it controls how out bodies utilize the sugar from food.
However, the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) view of diabetes is quite different. Firstly, TCM does not see the pancreas as a separate organ. The functions of the pancreas are usually attributed to the Spleen, one of the primary digestive organs.
The Spleen and the Stomach work together closely to extract the nutrients from food and distribute them around the body. This is very similar to the role of the pancreas in western medicine.
For the Spleen and Stomach to function properly, they require a healthy balance between yin and yang. If one of these forces becomes excessive or deficient, problems begin to occur.
In TCM, diabetes is usually seen as a form of yin deficiency. Yin is the cooling, moistening substance within the body. It prevents it from overheating and becoming dehydrated. When yin becomes deficient, the body gets too hot and dry. This is why one of the first symptoms of diabetes is often excessive thirst.
Yin also has a close relationship with blood. When yin begins to dry up, blood tends to do the same. A lack of blood means that it is unable to circulate around the body as it should. This situation can lead to diabetic complications such as neuropathy.
Blood is also responsible for nourishing the eyes in TCM, which is why many diabetics end up with eye problems.
Acupuncture for Diabetes
Fortunately, there are several ways that acupuncture can help diabetes, especially in combination with Chinese herbal medicine. The primary objectives are to nourish yin and blood, cool the body, and improve circulation.
From a scientific perspective, acupuncture for diabetes could help to improve blood sugar control. It also reduces inflammation, which is a key contributing factor to the development of diabetes.
Many people also wonder whether acupuncture can help with weight loss. Although it cannot magically melt away the pounds, it can help to support patients through the process. Since losing weight is one of the best ways to improve diabetes, this is another way that acupuncture could help.
Acupuncture for Diabetes Complications
Another key way that acupuncture could be beneficial is in the treatment of diabetes complications.
In the west, acupuncture is probably best known as a treatment for pain. Many diabetics suffer from chronic pain as a result of neuropathy, and acupuncture can be very effective here. It helps to restore the free flow of blood and qi, ensuring that they can reach every part of the body.
Many diabetics also suffer from stress and anxiety. This may stem from a combination of having to constantly monitor blood sugar levels and worries about the effects of diabetes on long-term health.
Fortunately, acupuncture is very effective at relieving these symptoms too. It helps to calm the mind by releasing helpful neurotransmitters to aid relaxation and improve the mood. Most people report feeling very tranquil after an acupuncture treatment and these effects can last for hours or even days.
Tips for Managing Diabetes Using Chinese Medicine
In addition to using acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine for diabetes, there are several self-care tips that could also help. These are based on ancient Chinese wisdom, as well as modern science.
Of course, diet is one of the most important ways of managing diabetes. From a TCM perspective, how you eat is almost as important as what you eat, and little and often is key. It is essential to eat regularly and avoid skipping meals if you are diabetic.
Try to include some foods with each meal that release their energy slowly over time, such as complex carbohydrates and high-fiber foods. Talk to your dietician about how much carbohydrate you should be eating with each meal, but as a general rule, avoid white rice and pasta and stick with whole grains instead.
It is also important to sit down and eat your meals slowly. Chew each mouthful carefully and stop eating just before you feel full.
In terms of the best foods, try to choose more yin items that are moist and cooling. These include fresh vegetables, especially watery vegetables like leafy greens and cucumber. One food which may be especially helpful is bitter melon, which has been shown to have insulin-like properties.
Avoid eating foods which are overly rich, heating, or drying. These include fatty and fried foods, spicy foods, and of course, alcohol and caffeine.
Regular exercise helps to maintain a healthy body weight and improve the mood. From a TCM perspective, it also encourages the healthy circulation of qi and blood throughout the body.
If you haven’t exercised for a while, start off slowly and gradually build up over time. A walk through the park or a gentle yoga class is a great place to start. Once you begin to feel fitter, you can try more energetic activities like jogging or aerobics.
Sleep and Rest
Getting enough sleep is one of the best ways to nourish your yin. It is also important to balance physical exercise with rest and relaxation.
In TCM, it is essential to relax the mind as well as the body. This could mean taking up meditation, or simply making time for something you enjoy such as curling up with a good book.
Finally, you could try using some simple acupressure techniques to support your acupuncture treatment between sessions.
One of the best acupressure points for nourishing yin is Spleen 6, also known as Three Yin Junction. It is the junction of three important yin meridians, the Spleen, Liver, and Kidney. You can find it on the inner calf, around four finger-widths up from the tip of the ankle bone. The point is located on the inner edge of the tibia bone.
Massage this point gently in small, circular movements for 1–2 minutes on each side. You can do this while sitting in a chair with one ankle crossed over the opposite knee. If you have reduced mobility, ask a friend or family member to help.
Spleen 6 is just one of the many points that could help to build yin and improve your health. Your acupuncturist will be able to suggest others that are suitable for you.
To learn more about acupuncture for diabetes, just get in touch and we will be happy to answer all your questions.