Traditional Chinese Medicine and Diabetes

By Bill Reddy, L.Ac., Dipl.Ac.

If the average American is not concerned about the potential for becoming diabetic, then the following statistics should be a wake up call:

  • More than 60 percent of nontraumatic lower-limb amputations occur among people with diabetes.
  • The risk for stroke is two to four times higher among people with diabetes.
  • Diabetes is the leading cause of new cases of blindness among adults aged 20-74 years.
  • Diabetes is the leading cause of end-stage renal disease, accounting for 44 percent of new cases.

Today, roughly 18.2 million Americans have been diagnosed with diabetes. That's 6.3% of the population. Additionally it was the 6th leading cause of death listed on U.S. death certificates in the year 2000.

So the big question is: Beyond lifestyle changes and weight loss, what are the treatment options for someone recently diagnosed with diabetes? Acupuncture can be used to combat blood sugar levels and also slow the development of macular degeneration. In a recent study published in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine, ear magnets were "shown to lower blood glucose levels and improve eye conditions."1 There are 109 acupuncture points in the ear that are effective in the treatment of a wide variety of medical conditions from musculoskeletal pain to infertility to endocrine disorders. In the late 1990's an article was published on the effectiveness of acupuncture on chronic painful peripheral neuropathy. (Peripheral neuropathy refers to painful tingling or burning sensation in the hands and feet.) Forty six diabetic patients received acupuncture treatment over a 10 week period, with 77% noting significant improvement in their symptoms and 21% noting that their symptoms had completely vanished. The result of this study was that "Acupuncture is a safe and effective therapy for the long-term management of painful diabetic neuropathy, although its mechanism of action remains speculative."2 This study is extremely encouraging when compared to the Merck Manual of Medical Information, which states "careful control of blood sugar levels (through prescription drugs) may halt progression and improve symptoms, but recovery is slow. In defense of the manual, it also mentions "Diet management is very important" and "exercise directly lowers blood sugar levels," so pharmaceuticals are not its only approach. Research has been increasing in the field of Laser puncture, where various low-power lasers are used to non-invasively stimulate acupuncture points. Laser puncture is a painless procedure that is attractive to people who are "needle-phobic". A study was performed in Russia on diabetic patients suffering from angiopathies (blood-flow abnormalities) in their lower extremities. The result of the study was that there was a "pronounced clinical effect which was manifested by removing the pain syndrome, improvement of the peripheral circulation and extremity function and function of the lower extremities, and improvement of thermographic values."3 People suffering from cold hands and feet will benefit from acupuncture/laser puncture treatment. Traditional Chinese medicine not only includes Acupuncture and Herbal medicines, but also exercise such as Tai Qi and Qi Gong which have been applied extensively in China for the treatment of a wide variety of chronic diseases including cancer. In December of 2003, pharmacists at the Shanghai Jiao Tong University published an article entitled "Antidiabetic Herbal Drugs Officially Approved in China" where they write "Pharmacological and clinical evaluations indicated that these (herbs) had a mild, but significant, blood glucose lowering effect and that the long-term use of these agents may be advantageous over chemical drugs in alleviating some of the chronic diseases and complications caused by diabetes. "4 Herbal remedies historically have mild to no side effects compared to prescription drugs, HOWEVER, there still exist potentially dangerous drug/herb interactions. If you have Type II diabetes, get involved in a regular gentle exercise program, consult a certified nutritionist, and consider Acupuncture and Herbal medicine in your treatment protocol.

  1. Chen, Y. "Magnets on ears helped diabetics," American Journal of Chinese Medicine 2002; 30(1):183-5
  2. Abuaisha, B., Costanzi, J., Boulton, A., "Acupuncture for the treatment of chronic painful peripheral diabetic neuropathy: a long-term study," Diabetes Res Clin Pract 1998 Feb; 39(2);115-21
  3. Peshko, A., "Laser puncture in the treatment of diabetic angiopathies of the lower extremities" Lik Sprava 1992 Oct (10):82-4
  4. Jia, W., Gao, W., Tang, L. "Antidiabetic herbal drugs officially approved in China," Phytother Res. 2003 Dec: 17(10):1127-34

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