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Acupuncture helps with regulating blood sugar by balancing your body’s major organs and the balance of Yin and Yang in you. It does not directly bring the blood sugar level down like western drugs, but rather we aim to improve a person’s body constitution and regain proper functioning of the organs, and through that, the blood sugar level can be normalized.
The effects of TCM on blood sugar, whether acupuncture or herbal concoctions, aren’t immediate. In TCM, we do not use the blood glucose levels as a symptom, but rather, other symptoms you present with to assess your body’s constitution at any point of time. Thus, treatment is not focused on lowering the blood sugar levels but geared towards giving you an individualized treatment based on any deficiency or disharmony that you might possess.
Through the course of treatment, my patients have found not only their blood sugars being regulated, but also other symptoms rectified. They find themselves with better sleep quality, being more energized in the day and improved mood. Hence, many of them choose to continue with the treatment even after their blood sugar levels are normal.
In TCM, we actually do not have the term diabetes, but it is closely associated with a condition known as ‘Xiao Ke’. ‘Xiao’ literally means emaciation (being abnormally thin) and ‘Ke’ means thirst. This condition is characterized by excessive thirst, excessive hunger, excessive urination and unexplained weight loss.
These symptoms can also be observed in diabetic patients, hence we commonly refer diabetes as ‘Xiao Ke’ in TCM. A person’s health is determined by the balance of Yin and Yang in the body.
When Yin and Yang are not balanced, diseases arise. The primary cause of ‘Xiao Ke’ is Yin deficiency in the Lungs, Stomach and Kidneys. It is caused by both genetic and environmental factors such as an unhealthy diet (overconsumption of sweet, greasy food), emotional disturbances (stress, anxiety) and a constitutional Yin deficiency.
Yin deficiency results in Yang being relatively in excess and the excess Yang manifests as Heat in the body. Heat affects the Lungs, Stomach and Kidneys, hence producing excessive thirst, excessive hunger and excessive urination respectively. Individuals with ‘Xiao Ke’ mostly have all these symptoms in varying degrees and the predominant symptom reflects the main organ – Lungs, Stomach or Kidneys – that is Yin deficient.
Heat in the body continues to deplete Yin and Yin deficiency creates more Heat, leading to a vicious cycle. Treatment would aim to replenish Yin in the body, treating the root cause of the condition, while clearing Heat at the same time, resolving the symptoms.
This greatly depends on the type and stage of diabetes that you are diagnosed with. For Type 1 diabetes in which the body does not produce enough insulin to control blood sugar, lifelong insulin therapy would be needed.
Type 2 diabetes starts off with insulin resistance, where the cells in your body aren’t responding to the insulin produced, and may be accompanied with a lack of insulin as the disease progresses. There is also a pre-diabetic phase, also known as impaired glucose tolerance, where your blood sugar level may be higher than the normal range but not high enough to be diagnosed as Type 2 diabetes.
If you fall into this phase, the western doctor would usually advise diet control and increased exercise instead of prescribing medications. On top of the lifestyle changes, you can also undergo TCM treatment to prevent your condition from progressing into Type 2 diabetes. This is when TCM treatment alone may be sufficient.
You would also need to go for regular blood tests to monitor your blood sugar levels. If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, you would have to proceed with western treatment to maintain your blood sugar levels. TCM treatment can help to control your blood sugar levels in the long run but it does not have immediate effects.
It is important for you to continue your western drugs, to lower the chances for heart disease and other health problems that diabetes may bring about.
Diabetes is closely related to the condition ‘Xiao Ke’ in TCM. It is characterized by the four primary symptoms – excessive thirst, excessive thirst, excessive hunger, excessive urination and unexplained weight loss.
Since both types of diabetes can present with these symptoms, TCM sees them as the same condition. The primary cause of both types of diabetes is Yin deficiency and Heat. TCM diagnosis focuses on the syndrome of an individual instead of the disease or condition.
The syndrome is a reflection of any deficiency or disharmony in an individual’s Yin, Yang, Qi or Blood. Since both conditions manifest as Yin deficiency and Heat, the fundamental treatment principle would be similar. Treatment will then be tailored specifically to an individual, according to his constitution and symptoms presented.
We know that the treatment principle is to replenish Yin and clear Heat. Hence, the acupoints selected would follow this principle.
You can use these 3 acupoints found on your legs. First would be Di Ji on the inside of the calf.
This is located around 4 fingers-width from the crease behind your knee and directly behind the shin bone. Second would be San Yin Jiao, also on the inside of the calf. This is found 4 fingers-width above the highest point of the inner ankle and behind the shin bone. These acupoints both nourish Kidneys Yin.
The last acupoint is located halfway in between the highest point of the inner ankle and the Achilles tendon. This acupoint not only helps to nourish Yin, but clears Heat as well, especially Heat caused by Yin deficiency.
Massage these acupoints for 3-5 minutes until you feel some localized soreness. You can massage these acupoints multiple times a day. One important thing to take note is that acupressure massage is not suitable for pregnant women, hence they shouldn’t be used for gestational diabetes.
Diet control definitely plays a big part in managing diabetes. Since carbohydrate is the main nutrient that raises blood sugar levels, we should focus on the intake of carbohydrates. First of all, diabetic patients should decrease their intake of sugar and refined carbohydrates. This includes white rice and white bread.
They have high glycemic index (GI), meaning that they can make your blood sugar levels shoot up very quickly. You should stick to low GI food, which includes oatmeals, brown rice, wholemeal bread, legumes and nuts.
Breaking your three main meals up to small frequent meals can also help to moderate your blood sugar levels throughout the day. This prevents huge spikes in your blood glucose levels and allows for a slower, continuous absorption of food. Furthermore, eating several small meals may also reduce your hunger, which leads to a lower calorie intake.
Abnormal blood sugar levels, whether pre-diabetes or diabetes, are seen as a result of disharmony in the body’s Yin and Yang, and the malfunctioning of our five organs. A TCM physician will assess your condition by asking you about your general well-being and other symptoms that you might present with.
He will then diagnose you with a syndrome, which describes the specific disharmony in the body. A treatment will be formulated that is tailored specific to your individual condition. Through achieving your body’s balance of Yin and Yang and regaining the proper functioning of your organs, you can then achieve normal blood sugar levels.
Pre-diabetes can be seen as the early stage of diabetes. Pre-diabetes is the stage where your blood sugar levels are higher than the normal range but have not reached the diabetic range. It is not a disease on its own, but rather viewed as an increased risk for diabetes.
Both pre-diabetes and diabetes are both chronic conditions that are incurable. Management of both is targeted at controlling blood sugar levels, to lower the risk of developing complications. The only difference is that management of pre-diabetes involves lifestyle changes and when it progresses to diabetes, drugs and insulin injections are required.
Once diagnosed with diabetes, you would most likely have to be on medication for the rest of your life. It is not diabetes that is life-threatening but rather the complications that come with uncontrolled blood sugar levels. These complications include kidney problems, eye problems, damage to peripheral nerves and diabetes-related foot problems.
Cupping is a form of TCM treatment which involves the use of heat and glass cups to create a suction force on the skin. This aims to increase the circulation of Qi and Blood, and remove external pathogenic factors like Cold, Heat and Dampness from the body.
It is typically used to address pain conditions such as muscle aches, sprains and rheumatism. However, it can also be done for general wellness, to balance the Yin and Yang energy of an individual.
In this aspect, cupping can also be done for diabetic patients to rectify the imbalances in them.
One key thing to take note is that cupping can result in abrasions and blisters which can lead to an increased risk for infections due to poor wound healing in diabetic patients. Hence, it is absolutely important to inform your physician of your medical history, so that he can take extra precautions to prevent such injuries.
Physicians could employ gentler techniques or shorten the duration of the cupping treatment so as to minimize the risk of any damage to the skin.
I would advise your aunt to lower her sugar and carbohydrates intake, and to include whole grains in her meals instead of refined carbohydrates. She can choose wholemeal bread instead of white bread, and brown rice instead of white rice.
On top of controlling her carbohydrate intake, there are some common herbs which she can include in her diet to nourish her Yin. She can make herself soups using Kudzu Root or Chinese Yam 2-3 times a week. She can also consider replacing her carbohydrates in some meals with Chinese Yam as it is a low GI food.
She can also include astragalus and wolfberries in her soups as they can help to nourish Kidneys and Spleen. Other than soups, she can make herself tea with astragalus and wolfberries several times a week.
Place 2-3 pieces of astragalus and a teaspoon of wolfberries in a cup. Simmer these ingredients for 5-10 minutes and it is ready to drink. This helps to nourish Kidneys and Spleen and astragalus also has the effect of lowering blood sugar levels.