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How does acupuncture help in diabetes?

 By Dr. E. Tukmachi, Clinical director of UK ACUPUNCTURE CLINICS


There is nothing new about diabetes; it has been a medical problem since antiquity. The name which was originated by Aretaeus (30-90 CE) came from the Greek words meaning 'siphon' and 'to run through', signifying the chronic excretion of an excessive volume of urine. Diabetes mellitus, because of its frequency, is probably the single most important metabolic disease and is widely recognized as one of the leading causes of death and disability in the UK. It affects every cell in the body and the essential biochemical processes that go on there.   


It is known that more than 6.8 million men, women and children in the UK have either type one or type two diabetes.  In disease the body does not produce or not enough insulin which is an essential hormone to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy that the body in need of it on daily basis. Insulin was the first, and remains the primary means of treatment for Type 1 diabetes and is administered by subcutaneous injection. This method is necessary since insulin is destroyed by gastric stomach secretions when it is taken by mouth. A great deal of research has been conducted into the possible aetiology of diabetes. Most of the prevalent ideas can be classified under one of the following categories: heredity, endocrine imbalance, dietary indiscretion and obesity, sequelae of infection, and severe and continued psychic stress. The etiology of diabetes is still mysteriously unknown, but sometimes it is mainly caused by both genetics and environmental factors such as obesity and lack of exercise. The diabetes is associated with some complications such as heart disease, hypertension, eye problems, kidney disease, nervous system disease, periodontal disease, amputation, fatigue, depression, and other complications in pregnancy.

There are three main types of diabetes:

Type 1 Diabetes
(Insulin-Dependent Diabetes Mellitus/IDDM):  Insulin-dependent diabetes is considered an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas and destroys them. The pancreas produces little or no insulin and it is then almost certain that life-long insulin replacement will be necessary. The exact mechanism for the body's immune system attack to the beta cells is unknown but the most likely causes are viral infection, genetic factors and free radicals.

Type 2 Diabetes
(Noninsulin-Dependent Diabetes Mellitus/NIDDM:
The most common form of diabetes is noninsulin-dependent diabetes. About 90 to 95 percent of people with diabetes have Type 2.

Gestational Diabetes
Gestational diabetes develops or is discovered during pregnancy. This type usually disappears when the pregnancy is over, but women who have had gestational diabetes have a greater risk of developing NIDDM later in their lives.

Management of Diabetes:
The Western Medicine manages
diabetes in a healthy way and it is vital for a diabetic patient to adapt a healthy lifestyle which includes, diet, exercise, and other health habits. The diabetic patient should always seek a support team of health care professionals in management of their diabetes.  The team may include the GP, a diabetic specialist, an eye specialist, diabetic nurses and a dietitian. Insulin was the first, and remains the primary means of treatment for Type 1 diabetes and is administered by subcutaneous injection. This method is necessary since insulin is destroyed by gastric stomach secretions when it is taken by mouth. Insulin injections must be balanced with meals and daily activities, and glucose levels must be closely monitored through frequent blood sugar testing. For Type 2 patients, the number of orally active antidiabetic agents has increased from one class of agents (the sulfonylureas - sulfa drugs) to the current total of four classes of agents.

  1. The Traditional Chinese acupuncture medicine
  2. has been used to treat diabetes for over 3000 years.  A diabetic patient with "Xiao Ke" or "wasting and thirsting disease" (the Traditional Chinese medical term for diabetes) has been detailed in the Nei Jing, a classic Chinese medical book written about 3,000 years ago.  Usually the diabetic patient is described as having symptoms of excessive hunger and thirst, frequent urination and rapid weight loss.
            Chinese nutrition uniquely differs from modern Western nutrition in that it determines the energetic and therapeutic properties of foods rather than analysing them solely according to their chemical constituents. For example Spinach is cooling, strengthens all the organs, lubricates the intestines, quenches thirst and promotes urination. One application for diabetes to strengthen the digestive organs and assist in clearing heat would be to boil tea from spinach and chicken gizzards and drink 1 cup three times a day. Another application is to eat spinach cooked with seaweed to help clean the blood and reduce swellings. This is beneficial when a diabetic develops itchy skin, rashes or hot skin eruptions.

Furthermore, Chinese nutrition takes into consideration such factors as the person's body type, age and vitality level, the geographical location, yearly seasonal influences and the method of preparation in determining the appropriate diet. Used both as a healing and disease prevention system, the distinct advantage of Chinese nutrition lies in its ability to adapt to the changing needs of an individual. In case of illness, rather than solely focusing on treating the particular disease, the whole person and their interrelated bio-chemical and bio-energetic systems can be addressed.

Sugar in the urine, as one of the most important symptoms of diabetes, was included in the Chinese medical classic, A Collection of Diseases, by Wang Shou, published in 752. For the first time in Chinese medical history diabetes was listed among the eleven hundred diseases. The author recommended pork pancreas as treatment for the disease, and also recommended a special method of testing sugar in the urine: the patient was asked to pass urine on a wide, flat brick to see if ants gathered to collect the sugar.

This method of testing urine was more than ten centuries ahead of Richard Thomas Williamson (1862-1937), who invented a test for the same purpose. The Chinese author's treatment using pork pancreas was similar to modern treatment by insulin. In Chinese medicine however, thirst, weight loss, fatigue, and sugar in the urine are considered the key symptoms of diabetes. When a patient recovers from any of these symptoms, the diabetes treatment is considered successful. In treating diabetes, Acupuncture offers a way to address each patient individually to eliminate the symptoms associated with diabetes and reduce the need for insulin.  The practitioner may choose to use a variety of techniques during treatment including acupuncture with lifestyle/dietary recommendations and energetic exercises. The acupuncture treatment for diabetes will focus on regulating the circulation of blood and Qi and balancing the organ systems to improve pancreatic function and address internal heat and the depletion of fluids. Certain acupuncture points may be used to treat diabetes which are all over the body and on several meridians.  A point on the back, called 'Yishu' (located on the back, lateral to thoracic vertebrae 8) is often used and has proven effective in recent studies published by the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine for controlling the function of the pancreas and blood sugar levels in diabetic patients. 


When treating diabetes, acupuncture can assist the body to regain its normal healthy functioning and so that the diabetic patient should add acupuncture to your arsenal when fighting diabetes!

If you need further information on Musculoskeletal disease  and their management  by acupuncture therapy , please try to contact  THE UK ACUPUNCTURE CLINIC OR the CLINICAL DIRECTOR DR. EMAD TUKMACHI OR if you want to make an appointment at one of our UK ACUPUNCTURE CLINICS, please telephone or email us