Natural Treatments for Diabetes
By Dr. Mao Shing Ni
Sugar (specifically, glucose) is the primary source of energy for every cell in the body, whether in the brain, the heart, or the muscles that help you walk. As food is digested, the sugars are changed into glucose. The glucose then travels throughout the body via the blood, and is absorbed by cells for energy. A tiny molecule called insulin, which is produced by the pancreas, makes this absorption possible.
Under normal circumstances your blood sugar is usually balanced, with minor peaks after a meal. But consuming an excess of cookies, soft drinks, and processed foods that contain simple sugars, combined with inactivity and a sedentary life, can cause blood glucose levels to rise rapidly. In response, the pancreas produces excess insulin, which rapidly shuffles the blood sugar into cells, dropping levels to far below normal and resulting in cravings for more sugar. Over time this yoyo effect can make the cells less sensitive to insulin and more sugar stays in the blood, resulting in diabetes. This phenomenon is called insulin resistance.
In ancient times diabetes was diagnosed by tasting a person’s urine for sugar content. Excess sugar in the blood eventually drains out of the kidneys, causing frequent urination, and with loss of the fluids comes thirst. Frequent urination and excessive thirst are the hallmark characteristics of diabetes. Affecting more than 20 million people in the United States, diabetes is a complex syndrome involving many of the body’s systems and has the potential to damage the heart, kidneys, nervous system, and hormonal system. If left unmanaged, diabetes can cause many complications, including heart disease, kidney failure, peripheral neuropathy, decreased wound healing, skin ulceration, and infections.
Type 2–or adult-onset diabetes–is the most common of the two main types of diabetes. Though there is no cure for diabetes, there are ways to control blood sugar. With proper diet and an approach that integrates Western and Eastern medicine, type 2 diabetes can be controlled.
I work with endocrinologists to reverse or control diabetes-our patients are put on a strict diet that includes quality protein from fish, fowl, nuts, seeds, beans, and legumes. Fresh vegetables and whole grains are also part of the diet. Patients eat small but frequent meals, do at least one hour of cardiovascular exercise a day, and keep their stress levels low with meditation. I also administer weekly acupuncture treatments and Chinese herbal therapy. Initially my diabetes patients are on medication prescribed by their endocrinologist, but as their glucose levels normalize, the medications are reduced until they’re no longer necessary. This type of treatment can only be accomplished through a close collaboration between Eastern and Western medicine.
Chinese medicine has recorded many observations of diabetes throughout the millennia and classifies it as “wasting and thirsting disorder.” It has differentiated the condition into upper, middle, and lower regions of the body, depending on where the most symptoms occur. For example, excess thirst is the upper body, attributed to deficiency of the lung-large intestine network. Excess hunger is attributed to the middle and linked with the spleen-pancreas-stomach network. Excess urination is linked to the lower body organs, namely the kidneys. Depending on the symptoms, treatments focus on harmonizing these organs, strengthening weaknesses, and adjusting the body’s ability to absorb and metabolize sugar. The best approach to diabetes is, of course, prevention. With simple changes to your diet and lifestyle, along with regular checkups, you can keep the debilitating condition of diabetes from entering your life. Please note: Never go off medications or insulin without the consent of your physician.
The key to maintaining normal sugar levels in the body is to eat a balanced diet of complex carbohydrates, organic sources of protein, and healthful fats.
Herbs can be found in health food or vitamin stores, online, and at the offices of Chinese medicine practitioners. Herbs should be used according to individual needs; consult with a licensed practitioner for a customized formulation.
Keeping fit and maintaining proper weight is the best thing you can do to prevent diabetes. Exercise also plays a direct role in how your body stores and uses the energy you consume. A daily 30-minute cardiovascular activity that stimulates circulation, conditions the heart, and builds muscle will encourage your body to properly metabolize sugar, helping to prevent diabetes.
Studies show that tai chi and qi gong exercises have a beneficial effect on the hormonal system. With daily practice of qi gong exercises such as the Eight Treasures you can strengthen your hormonal system, help balance your blood sugar levels, and avoid the serious complications of diabetes. Below I describe a simple walking exercise called Merry-Go-Around that I recommend to many of my patients to help manage diabetes.
• In a quiet outdoor setting find a tree with at least five feet of clear space around the trunk in all directions. If you were to draw a circle around the tree, its diameter would be around 10 to 12 feet, though larger or smaller circles are also fine.
Engaging both of these points helps regulate digestion and metabolism, strengthens the vital qi, and tones the yin of the kidneys, spleen, and liver, which are involved in endocrine function.
©2015 Dr. Mao Shing Ni
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