While diabetes is much less common in China when compared to the United States, it has been recognized for over 2000 years and was described in some of the earliest texts on TCM and acupuncture (15).
In terms of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), we identify the disease by how the disease manifests. In other words, we treat it based on what symptoms are present.
As we’ve already mentioned, some of the more common symptoms include excessive thirst (polydipsea), excessive hunger (polyphagia), and excessive urination (polyuria).
In TCM this is known as “Xiao-ke” or “wasting thirsting” disease. It is also known as “Tang-niao-bing” or “sugar urine illness”. We can then break this down into which area of the body is showing symptoms. Upper Xiao-ke (excessive thirst) is attributed to a Lung Yin Deficiency. Middle Xiao-ke (excessive hunger) is attributed to a combination of Stomach Heat and Stomach/Spleen Yin Deficiency. Lower Xiao-ke is due to Kidney Yin Deficiency (17).
While there are several clinically proven Chinese herbal solutions to address these issues, this article will focus on how acupuncture can help.
Since these excessive thirst, hunger, and urination problems are due to high blood sugar levels, we are going to discuss how acupuncture is proven to lower blood sugar levels. We will also discuss how acupuncture can also help with diabetic neuropathy (pain in the extremities)
Several animal studies have confirmed that acupuncture and electro-acupuncture can lower blood sugar by increasing insulin sensitivity in artificially induced diabetic Type 2 rats (18). It was concluded that increasing insulin sensitivity and lowering blood sugar levels using electro-acupuncture was done by lowering free-fatty acid concentration and recovering expression of insulin signaling protein (IRS1 and the glucose isoform protein (GLUT4) that are found in skeletal muscle cells.
Another study reported in a journal, “Neuroscience Letters”, concluded that electro-acupuncture increased insulin sensitivity and thus glucose adsorption by additional mechanisms including the extra stimulation of acetylcholine (Ach) in the liver and nitric-oxide (NO). These substances seem to play an additional role in reducing free-fatty acid concentration (19).
Along with the numerous animal studies proving how acupuncture can lower sugar levels and increase insulin sensitivity, several trials have now shown how acupuncture can lower blood sugar levels (plasma glucose) levels in human patients with Type 2 diabetes mellitus. This significant drop in blood sugar levels was more pronounced with increasing treatments. After 3 months of treatment, acupuncture caused a drop in blood sugar levels in both glucose fasting state (8 hours after last meal) AND in the post prandial state ( 2 hours after last meal). The average glucose fasting levels dropped from 146+/-9.7 down to 111+/-8.3. The average post-prandial glucose levels dropped from 207+/- down to 155+/-8.7.
Interestingly, the study also looked at lipid profiles (cholesterol), and body-mass index (fat content). After three months of acupuncture, the average Total cholesterol dropped from 158+/- 8.4 down to 140+/- 8.7. HDL-cholesterol (the good kind) increased from 39+/-1.1 up to 43+/-2.7. while the LDL-cholesterol (the bad kind) decreased from 91+/-8.8 down to 76+/-7.3.
Lastly, the study showed that body mass index (kg/m2) dropped from 26+/-0.89 down to 25+/-0.77. To put it simply, the patients become less fat. (20).
While the blood-sugar lowering effects in humans are not completely understood, we assume that the models are similar to what was observed in rats; free-fatty acid levels decrease thus lowering insulin resistance. This particular study was conducted with well-documented body acupuncture points known for their blood-sugar lowering (hypoglycemic) effects. Most animal studies have shown that electro-acupuncture at 15 Hz gives a stronger effect than non-electro acupuncture. It would be interesting to see some human studies using electro-acupuncture rather than non-electro acupuncture to induce even stronger effects. Is this one study a fluke? Is this too good to be true? The current research says no. Based on recent literature reviews by the British Acupuncture Council (21), a study published in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine (22), and a report from the International Journal of Obesity(23) acupuncture has a significant influence in 1) Lowering blood sugar levels of Type-2 Diabetes patients, 2) Decreasing or eliminating diabetic neuropathy pain, 3) Lowering cholesterol levels 4) Decreasing free-fatty acid levels 5) Lowering body-mass index (obesity).
Diabetes in its several forms is a complex and very dangerous disease. Several factors including genetics, diet, exercise, and stress all can influence the likelihood to get diabetes, especially Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. While it’s impact is growing at a frightening rate around the world, there is hope! Simple life-style changes including diet and rigorous exercise have been clinically proven to stop and even reverse diabetes symptoms. Now with acupuncture, however, we have another powerful tool proven to help with several factors of diabetes. It’s safe, inexpensive, and most importantly, proven to work.
To find out more about TCM and Diabetes Mellitus, please read the complete article here.