Diabetes Type 2

Chinese Medical Patterns of Type 2 Diabetes

Diabetes Type 2 can present itself through the interactions of specific Organ Systems according to Chinese medical theory. While no patient is a textbook case, these patterns help to guide us so that we can disseminate a diagnosis based on TCM. Most of those who have diabetes will have more than one pattern of imbalance and will require several herbal formulas.

Spleen Qi Deficiency

This pattern is indicated with loose stools, low energy, distention and gas after meals, weak limbs, scallops on the side of the tongue, and sometimes a loss of appetite. Spleen Qi Deficiency is also indicated in cases of insulin resistance and hypoglycemia which are often considered pre-diabetic conditions. The pancreas is a part of the Spleen energetic organ system, and a Spleen imbalance is typical when dealing with diabetes. 

Kidney Yin Deficiency
Yin Deficiency would generally include thirst, dry mouth, frequent urination of dark urine, and soreness in the lower back and knees. This is a common early indication of diabetes, but aspects of Yin Deficiency are typically present throughout the disease process. As the body works to purge the insidious pathogenic Dampness due to a damaged Spleen energetic system, the Yin is consumed. Yin represents substance in the body, and compromising Yin leads to premature aging in diabetes. As the disease progresses the Yin substance consumed can include the myelin sheath of the nerves leading to neuropathy. 

Spleen - Kidney Yang Deficiency
This pattern will present with feelings of coldness throughout the body, fatigue, frequent urination, weakness, sore lower back and knees, and a shortness of breath. This pattern becomes more common as we age. Generally, Yang is our warmth and vitality. Qi is also Yang in nature, so Restore the Middle Way formula may address coldness and other Yang Deficient symptoms. Yang tonics must be used with care in a well balanced formula to avoid creating further imbalance in the body. 

Stomach Heat
Closely associated with Yin Deficiency, Stomach Heat can develop due to Stomach Yin Deficiency possibly created by poor diet. Signs would include thirst, a big appetite, and yellow coated tongue. The temptation is to drink iced drinks to cool the heat and quench the thirst in this pattern, but the tactic backfires by forcing the stomach to constantly create heat so that it can maintain an optimum temperature for digestion

Diabetes and Chinese Medical Strategies

Diabetes has risen to epidemic levels in the U.S.; the CDC reports that between the years of 1980 and 2005, the number of new incidents of diabetes has basically doubled. The chances of developing diabetes increase significantly as we age. Chinese medicine is effective at addressing type-2 diabetes, especially when caught early in the pre-diabetic stage, or while in the insulin resistance has been detected. Herbal formulas are used to moderate blood sugar levels for type-1 diabetes, but are not effective at reversing it. 

There is historical data showing that Chinese medicine has recognized and treated diabetes for over 2,000 years. There are many patterns of imbalance that diabetes can present with, but there are some basic commonalities in the majority of diabetes cases; according to Chinese medicine, there are typically three stages in type 2 diabetes. Each individual will advance through diabetes differently, but this is a basic progression is common in type 2 diabetes:

Stage 1 of Diabetes in TCM
Before diabetic symptoms appear, there are signs of Yin Deficiency. Thirst is a common sign of Yin Deficiency and is prevalent in patients with diabetes. Unfortunately, simply drinking water will not reverse Kidney Yin Deficiency, as the condition requires Yin nourishing herbs. Yin Deficiency can also present with afternoon or night sweats, hot flashes, and symptoms that worsen at night. 
Stage 2 of Diabetes in TCM
As the disease progresses, Yin Deficiency left untreated persists, and Qi Deficiency develops next. The pancreas is part of the Spleen energetic organ system in Chinese medicineSpleen Qi Deficiency is common in the pre-diabetes stage and throughout the disease pattern. The Spleen is responsible for the way we utilize and store food in Chinese medicine; obesity, thinness, nausea, and digestive issues are all indications of Spleen imbalances
Stage 3 of Diabetes in TCM
Yang (energy) is dependent on Yin (substance) and Qi (energy); if diabetes progresses without proper treatment, all three will collapse. Blood is dependent on Qi to circulate, so further symptoms develop related to poor circulation such as neuropathy and pain. Look to Blood Mansion formula for improved circulation. At this stage, the diabetes is an advanced disease and becomes difficult to reverse.

Lifestyle Practices that Help to Prevent Diabetes

Diet and Diabetes
Recent studies have shown that more than 90% of diabetes is avoidable through lifestyle changes, not drugs and surgeries!  Chinese food therapy and herbal therapy is a great example of a positive lifestyle change that can help to prevent a person who is diagnosed with pre-diabetes.

15 to 30 % of people with pre-diabetes will develop diabetes within 5 years!

The fact that increased rates of diabetes in the U.S. and other countries mirror the increased rates of obesity is certainly not a mere coincidence, but there certainly has been an overemphasis on weight rather than wellness in relations to diabetes prevention. Foods that are fatty or fried, sugars, and refined foods damage the Spleen according to TCM. With the Spleen system impaired, foods are not utilized properly and weight gain persists regardless of dieting efforts, or weight loss can occur as the body does not take nourishment in correctly.

Consuming whole foods is vital in the prevention and successful reversal of this condition. Sugars and white flour, rice, or potatoes should be replaced with whole grains; fruit juices should be replaced with whole fruit sparingly; and vegetables should consumed with wild abandon. Protein consumption is vital in maintaining level blood sugar levels and is best obtained through nuts, eggs, beans or legumes, and fish; keep meat and cheese, and greasy food consumption to a minimum. Most importantly, avoid iced drinks, raw foods, and frozen foods that can damage the Spleen according to Chinese medicine.

Sugar Substitutes
In an effort to cut calories, overweight people will consume beverages with sugar substitutes. This strategy backfires as the pancreas is stimulated to release insulin without the presence of glucose in the blood stream. The individual cells respond by removing receptor sites for insulin. When the body does consume food, the cells are unable to uptake much of the resulting glucose because of the reduced number of insulin receptors and the glucose circulates to the liver where it is stored as fat. Additionally, sugar substitutes tend to be much, much sweeter than real sugar and create a craving for very sweet substances.

Diabetes and Exercise
Moderate exercise has proven to be invaluable with all types of chronic disease patterns. Additionally, regular exercise reduces stress that can contribute to the development of diabetes. A brisk two mile walk daily is preferred over running in this condition and Tai Qi and yoga are helpful in building Qi. The cells are responsible for many actions including making available energy for us. As the cells become less productive because of the developing insulin resistance there is less energy for exercise, and the condition just continues to spiral out of control. Moderate aerobic exercise is vital in maintaining proper blood circulation in this debilitating disease.

Stress and Diabetes
It is known that our nervous system has two functional modes; the Sympathetic and Para-sympathetic. We are supposed to live in the parasympathetic mode that promotes a "rest and digest" response and a calming of the nerves to preserve adrenal health. Unfortunately, many of us are caught up in an unhealthy loop of emotional responses to life's every day stresses putting us in the Sympathetic mode that promotes a "fight or flight" response inhibiting digestion, increasing the heart rate, constricting blood vessels, inhibiting reproduction responses, and causing our body to consume tissue for quick energy; this creates Yin Deficiency.

Stress increases your glucose needs and regulation, so meditation is another important preventative practice for wellness and pre-diabetic candidates. A regular practice of meditation and Qi Gong breathing exercises performed daily for 15 to 20 minutes will normalize the stress response and allow us to respond to life challenges with grace and flexibility. There are also herbs called adaptogens that nourish our nervous system and allow us to adapt to change and unexpected disruptions to everyday life; 

Chinese Medicine and Diabetes
Natural treatments can provide substantial results in addressing diabetes, but it is helpful to have realistic expectations in treating diabetes with acupuncture and herbs. In order to manage this condition naturally, it is essential for people with diabetes to make healthy lifestyle choices in diet, exercise, and other health habits. 

Acupuncture and herbal medicine have been used to treat diabetes for over 2000 years. A patient with 'Xiao Ke' or 'wasting and thirsting disease' (the Traditional Chinese Medical term for diabetes) is discussed in detail in the Nei Jing, a classic Chinese Medical book written about 2,500 years ago. The patient is described as having symptoms of excessive hunger and thirst, frequent urination and rapid weight loss; all symptoms of diabetes.

According to Traditional Chinese medicine, diabetes is caused by an imbalance of the cyclical flow of Qi within the meridians and organ systems. This particular imbalance produces heat that depletes the body's fluids and Qi causing symptoms such as:

  • fatigue
  • lethargy
  • unexplained weight loss
  • excessive thirst (polydipsia)
  • excessive urination (polyuria)
  • excessive eating (polyphagia)
  • poor wound healing
  • infections
  • irritability
  • blurry vision

When treating diabetes, Chinese medicine can assist the body to regain its normal healthy functioning. Pre-diabetic conditions can often be fully reversed, while type 2 diabetics have a chance of reversing their condition when caught early on. Those who have chronic type 2 diabetes or type 1 diabetes can find that acupuncture and herbs help to moderate blood sugar levels and help to provide an improved quality of life. Additionally, acupuncture is effective in addressing nerve pain and poor circulation due to advanced diabetes.

In treating diabetes, Chinese medicine offers a way to address each patient individually to eliminate the symptoms associated with diabetes and possibly reduce the need for insulin. A Chinese medical practitioner may choose to use a variety of techniques during treatment including acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, bodywork, lifestyle/dietary recommendations and energetic exercises. The 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.