Diabetes is a disease of carbohydrate metabolism in which the normal insulin mechanisms malfunction and the cells are unable to oxidize and utilize carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are an important and immediate source of energy for the body; as unused carbohydrates accumulate, the diabetic begins to feel weak and drained of energy. No matter how much food diabetics consume, they are improperly nourished because their bodies are unable to use the energy circulating in the blood.
The reasons for the malfunction are extremely complex, but an automobile metaphor may help you understand the basic problem. Insulin is the”spark” delivered by the distributor (the pancreas)that ignites a series of chemical and electrical reactions,which allow the gas (blood sugar or glucose)to be utilized by the cylinders (the cells) so that the car can run smoothly and efficiently. If the spark(insulin) is too weak or too strong, the car sputters and eventually stalls out.
Diabetes is sometimes described as a disease of three excesses: excess thirst, excess appetite, and excess urination. In addition to the three excesses,the symptoms include elevated blood sugar, sugar in the urine, and general weakness and fatigue. Because bacteria and other microorganisms thrive on sugar, the excess sugar in the blood provides a fertile breeding ground for infection. Deprived of their essential carbohydrate energy, the body’s macrophages and white blood cells have a harder time fighting infection, and relatively minor infections can rage out of control, leading to dangerous complications such as ulcers and gangrene.
Without the energy available from carbohydrates to aid in metabolism, proteins and fats accumulate in the blood and can eventually damage the blood vessels by slowing down circulation, which can cause heart and kidney problems and lead to vision dysfunctions, nervous system problems, and permanent organ damage. Circulatory problems also increase the risk of infection.
When the liver works overtime to create its own sugar for the body to use as energy, fats and proteins are broken down from the body’s muscles and nerves, leading to muscle wasting and additional nervous system dysfunctions. The sugars released by the body as it breaks down its own tissues are called ketones, and they are a poor substitute for the energy-rich carbohydrate sugars. General metabolic problems lead to improper fat metabolism,which can cause atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries-which, in turn, contributes to poor circulation in the lower extremities.
There are two distinct forms of diabetes mellitus:juvenile-onset (Type I) diabetes and adult-onset(Type II) diabetes. In Type I diabetes the insulin producing cells in the pancreas aren’t working to produce insulin, while in Type II diabetes the body’s cells become insensitive to insulin. Five percent of diabetics have juvenile onset diabetes,which is treated by insulin injections and continual monitoring of blood sugar levels. Type II diabetes,which affects ninety-five percent of diabetics, is responsive to dietary changes and various drug therapies.
The seventh leading cause of death in the United States, adult-onset diabetes can develop in anyone,although the following groups are most susceptible: people who are obese (over forty percent of diabetics have a history of obesity); people over forty years of age; women; and individuals with a family history of diabetes.
Diagnostic tests for diabetes include urinalysis for sugar in the urine and blood tests such as the fasting blood sugar test or the glucose tolerance test, which show the body’s ability to utilize carbohydrates.
When you are diagnosed with Type II (adult-onset)diabetes, your doctor will suggest that you make a drastic reduction in your sugar intake. If you are overweight, you will be asked to go on a strict weight-loss diet. For most people these two strategies-restricting sugar and losing weight-are sufficient to stabilize the blood sugar.
If the blood sugar cannot be controlled with diet,the next treatment strategy is oral hypoglycemic agents, or drugs that lower blood sugar levels. For the most part these are sulfa drugs (Diabinese, Glucotrol,Micronase, Orinase) that stimulate the pancreas to produce more insulin and assist the cells in utilizing the sugar available to them. Unfortunately,these drugs work to control blood sugar levels in only sixty percent of patients; furthermore, they lose their effectiveness over time, and they can cause hypoglycemic reactions. Other relatively rare side effects include allergic skin reactions, headaches,indigestion, and fatigue.
If sulfa drugs are unable to control your blood sugar levels, your physician may suggest insulin injections and a home monitoring device to help you regulate and control your insulin levels. While insulin therapy often works to stabilize blood sugar levels, the diabetic eventually becomes dependent on taking synthetic insulin because the pancreas,which is no longer required to produce insulin,stops working and may begin to atrophy. Blood sugar fluctuations are common in insulin-dependent diabetics and create additional stress on cells, tissues,and organs.
Diabetes causes many serious, even life threatening complications, including increased susceptibility to infection, nerve disorders (tingling sensations,numbness or pain, loss of nerve function, muscle weakness), diabetic foot ulcers, retinal problems (diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in the United States), kidney problems, and atherosclerosis (buildup of plaque on the artery walls).
The Chinese call diabetes “the great wasting and thirsting disease,” a name that vividly portrays the excessive thirst, hunger, and urination associated with this illness, as well as the wasting away of the cells and tissues because the body cannot effectively utilize carbohydrate energy.
According to traditional Chinese medicine, diabetes is caused by eating too many sweet and/or fatty foods, which deplete the Earth energies (Spleen/Pancreas)and interfere with digestive processes. As more sweets and fats are consumed, Earth is forced to work even harder, which generates heat in the system. As heat accumulates, the body draws on its water ( yin)reserves to extinguish the smoke and fire; over time,the yin is seriously depleted. Because yin originates in the Kidneys, diabetes is considered a Kidney yin deficiency disease as well as a deficient Earth disease.
Deficient Kidney yin affects the ability of the Triple-Heater-the only organ within the Chinese classification system that is solely functional and has no structural counterpart-to “mist” the body with life giving water and to provide the power needed to circulate the blood and chi. When the Triple Heater malfunctions,circulation falters, digestion breaks down,and both the bladder and bowels are affected. In the upper heater (called the Misting), deficient yin creates the first wasting-great thirst-because the depletion of the body’s Water supply triggers the desire for replacement fluids, which is experienced as thirst. As The body’s fluid supplies continue to decrease, the chi(vital energy) diminishes, for chi depends on a sufficient yin supply in order to function properly. In the middle heater (called the Factory), deficient chi levels create a craving for food (excessive hunger) to replenish the dwindling energy supply. The third wasting occurs in the lower heater (the Swamp), where the deficient chi is unable to hold the urine in its place, causing excessive urination.
Treatment strategies vary depending on the individual’s constitutional type (Wood, Fire, Earth,Metal, or Water), general state of health, lifestyle choices, emotional balance, and spiritual yearnings.In all cases, however, the Spleen/Pancreas chi, Kidney chi, and Kidney yin will need support and nourishment. As the yin begins to build up, it will naturally resolve many of the false Fire signs and symptoms associated with diabetes; herbs and acupuncture treatments will also help to drain the excess heat from the Misting, the Factory, or the Swamp.
Although the following complementary treatments are specifically recommended for adult-onset (TypeII) diabetes, Type I diabetics can also benefit enormously from them. With dietary changes, daily exercise,nutritional supplements, herbal remedies,and acupuncture, many Type I diabetics can significantly lower the amount of insulin they use on a daily basis and at the same time protect themselves against many of the complications associated with the disease.
Blood sugar disorders like diabetes (hyperglycemia)and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) are increasing at an alarming rate, and many researchers believe the Western diet-high in refined carbohydrates,sugar, fat, and animal products, and low in fiber, fresh fruits and vegetables, and whole grains is responsible. People whose diets include hefty amounts of fat and sugar (the typical “Western-style-diet”) are five to ten times more likely to be diabetic than those who restrict fats and refined sugars and consume sufficient complex carbohydrates in the form of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. The average American consumes 32 teaspoons of sugar every day, or 125 pounds of sugar in one year.”Mainlined” sugar sets off an alarm system in the pancreas, which releases insulin in an attempt to remove the excess sugar from the blood and make it available to the cells. When insulin is pumped into the bloodstream, it distributes blood sugar to the cells and eliminates any surpluses, leading to a precipitous drop in blood sugar levels, which in turn creates a hypoglycemic or low blood sugar reaction.Hypoglycemia leads to a craving for sweets(the body’s way of asking you to put more sugar in the blood), irritability, and fatigue. Because sugar is critical to normal brain function, low blood sugar can also lead to cognitive and emotional problems ranging from headaches to blurred vision, foggy thinking, memory deficits, depression, irritability,and mood swings.
When your body cries out for more sugar to alleviate these distressing symptoms, you will probably reach for sugar-saturated foods like cookies, candies,or pastries. After eating these foods, your blood sugar will rise steeply, and for an hour or so you’ll feel better. Soon enough, however, the pancreas releases extra insulin, the blood sugar drops like a rock, and you’re back where you started. This could go on forever (with your emotions fluctuating along with your blood sugar), except at some point you may develop insulin resistance, a condition in which your cells close their doors to insulin, which leads to rising blood levels of both glucose and insulin.The overworked pancreas releases more insulin in response to the elevated blood sugar levels,which can trigger diabetes.
Diet is the major cause of adult-onset (Type II)diabetes; it can also be the primary healing agent.To prevent and/or cure diabetes, follow these dietary strategies:
STEP 1. The first and most important rule in the prevention and treatment of Type II diabetes is: Stop eating sugar and refined carbohydrate products. To satisfy your body’s need for carbohydrate fuel, eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and increase your intake of complex carbohydrates(rice, whole wheat, oatmeal, whole-grain breads and pastas, and potatoes). If you have a weight problem, try to get most of your carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables.
Refined Carbohydrate Products:
- White bread and rolls
- Soft drinks
- Pasta (except whole grain)
- Italian and French breads
- Bagels (except whole grain)
- Most breakfast cereal
STEP 2. Reduce harmful fats in your diet. Here’s a quick rundown on ways to reduce the “bad” fats and increase the “good” fats in your daily diet.Reduce the “Bad” Fats
- Eliminate red meat from your diet.
- Remove the skin from chicken and turkey (and buy organic-non-chemically treated-varieties whenever possible).
- Drastically reduce or eliminate dairy products(milk, cream, cheese, butter, ice cream, yogurt);when you use dairy products, use nonfat varieties.•
- Avoid all “partially hydrogenated” products, which include margarine, solid vegetable shorten-ing, fried fast foods, cookies, cakes, frostings, pies, pastries, crackers, frozen french fries, and packaged microwave popcorn.
- Avoid polyunsaturated oils (safflower, walnut,sunflower, sesame, corn, soybean, and cottonseed)in cooking; these oils become chemically unstable when heated.
Increase the “Good” Fats
- Use monounsaturated oils (olive, canola,peanut, avocado, flaxseed) in salads and for all cooking needs; extra-virgin, cold-pressed olive oilis the best choice.
- Eat fatty fish (salmon, sardines, herring,mackerel, bluefish, and albacore tuna) three times a week.
- If you are allergic to fish or simply don’t likethe taste, take omega-3 and/or gamma linoleic acid(GLA) supplements, available in most health food stores; follow the directions on the product label.
STEP 3: Increase the fiber in your diet. Fiber tends to bulk up in the intestine, making the elimination of waste products more efficient. Glucose molecules also latch on to the fibrous material, allowing a gradual release of sugar into the bloodstream and reducing the risk of a sugar overload,which can trigger a diabetic attack.
STEP 4: Avoid overeating. Overeating stimulates excess insulin production, which initiates the series of actions and reactions that can lead to adult-onset diabetes. If you need help in your efforts to lose weight and avoid sugar-rich foods, ask your health-care practitioner for advice on sensible diet and exercise regimens.
STEP 5: Drink eight to ten 8-ounce glasses of fresh,filtered water every day. Diabetes is considered a serious yin deficiency condition, characterized by excessive dryness and thirst. Sufficient water in the system helps the Liver and Kidneys work more efficiently and assists the bowels in their efforts to eliminate waste products. Water is also a natural appetite suppressant.
Some Final Suggestions
- Onions and garlic contain sulfur compounds and can help reduce your blood sugar levels; add them to anything and everything.
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and all recreational drugs, which drain the energy from your Liver,Kidneys, and Spleen/Pancreas at a time when they desperately need support.
Diabetics tend to be overweight, and overweight people are less likely to exercise regularly. If you incorporate exercise into your weight-loss program,you’ll lose weight faster and feel better doing it.
Most diabetics have an affinity to Earth or Water.Earth types tend to enjoy slow, easy, non jarring exercises like swimming, yoga, light aerobics, and taichi. Exercises that feature a rhythmic flow and graceful, supple movements are important to Water types: Water sports, cross-country or downhill skiing,brisk walks, bicycle rides, and workouts on home fitness machines typically appeal to Water.The gentle stretching nature of yoga and tai chi exercises are also supportive to Water energy.
As a general rule, Water types enjoy exercising alone, while Earth types like to have company when they exercise.Exercise for twenty or thirty minutes every day.
- Guar gum: This plant fiber is extremely useful in the prevention and/or treatment of diabetes and hypoglycemia.Glucose molecules latch on to the fibers,causing sugar to be released slowly into the bloodstream, which reduces stress on the pancreas.The dietary fiber in fruits and vegetables helps stabilize glucose levels, but few of us eat enough fresh produce to affect significantly the blood sugar.Guar gum supplements are therefore an important addition to our daily fiber intake. Take one or two capsules before each meal, or follow the directions on the product label. Be sure to drink lots of fresh, filtered water to help the fiber bulk move swiftly and efficiently through the digestive tract.
- Chromium: Chromium stabilizes blood sugar levels,improves glucose tolerance, lowers insulin levels,decreases low-density lipoproteins (“bad” cholesterol)and increases high-density lipoproteins(“good”cholesterol}. Chromium increases the efficiency of insulin so you need less insulin to deliver the blood sugar to the cells; if you are deficient in chromium,your pancreas may compensate by producing more insulin.Chromium is available in the following forms:chromium chloride, chromium polynicotinate,chromium picolinate, or chromium-enriched brewer’s yeast (which is also chock full of B vitamins).Take 200 mcg. daily if you are prone to diabetes and want to prevent the disease; take 200-400mcg. twice daily (400-800 mcg. total) if you have been diagnosed with diabetes.
- Vanadium: Vanadium, like chromium, works to regulate the blood sugar and lower elevated blood sugar levels; it also helps to lower cholesterol levels and may be helpful in treating atherosclerosis and heart disease. Take 7.5-15 mg. with chromium.
- Vitamin C: This is an essential supplement in diabetes,because insulin is needed to help the cells absorb the vitamin; when insulin levels are low,there is a greater likelihood of a vitamin C deficiency.Vitamin C’s strong immune-stimulating and antioxidant actions also help strengthen the body’s resistance to disease. Take 2,000-4,000 mg. (2-4 grams)daily.
- Vitamin E: Vitamin E protects the cell linings from free radical damage (common in diabetes) and reduces nerve cell damage, which diabetes often causes. Vitamin E is also a wonderful preventive supplement for hypoglycemia and diabetes. Take400-800 I.U. daily.
- Selenium: Selenium works synergistically with vitaminE to enhance its immune-supporting, antioxidant effects. Take 200 mcg. daily with vitamin E.
- B-complex vitamins: These vitamins help to prevent and treat diseases and disorders of the nerves(neuropathies) and retina (retinopathies), both very common in diabetes. The B vitamins also reduce the negative impact of stress on all body systems.Many of the individual B vitamins such as niacin,niacinamide, biotin, B6, and folic acid are used to prevent and treat various diabetic symptoms. Take aB-lOO complex daily.
- Zinc: Zinc plays a role in preventing diabetes, as itimproves glucose tolerance and supports immune function; people with a zinc deficiency are more likely to have diabetes. Take 30-50 mg. daily.
The following herbs can be used alone or combined in a single formula. Popular formulas available at health food stores offer different combinations of these herbs, or you can contact a qualified herbalist,who will mix up a formula tailored to your specific needs.
- Goat’s rue (Galega officinalis): Goat’s rue has been used in Europe to treat diabetes for centuries. One of the herb’s main constituents, galegine, acts as a hypoglycemic agent, helping to balance blood sugar levels and assisting the cells in metabolizing and assimilating fats and proteins.
- Devil’s club (Oplopanax horridum): Devil’s club is the premier herb for balancing blood sugar levels.Considered part of the ginseng family, it grows abundantly in the Pacific Northwest and is sometimes called armored ginseng or northwest ginseng.A soothing digestive tonic and metabolic stimulant,devil’s club also seems to help people lose weight,an added bonus for diabetics.
- Dandelion root (Taraxacum officinalis): This gentle but powerful liver tonic helps the body eliminatetoxic overloads. An excellent digestive bitter tonic,dandelion also supports the digestion and assimilation of food and drink, and it strengthens the pancreas as well.
- Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba): Ginkgo is one of the oldest recorded plant medicines. It has been used successfully for centuries to treat a wide range of diseases and symptoms, including memory loss, dizziness,ringing in the ears, headaches, visual problems,and cold hands and feet, as well as many emotional and psychological problems, particularly depression. Modern scientific research now offers convincing support for ancient claims about this herb.An extremely effective circulatory stimulant,ginkgo specifically targets the peripheral areas of the head, eyes, brain, hands, and feet-the areas most directly affected by circulatory problems in diabetes.Recent studies suggest that ginkgo may help protect against diabetic retinopathy-deterioration of the retina that can lead to blindness. Dosage: If you purchase your herbs in a healthfood store (either in tincture form or, as dried herbs,in capsule or pill form), follow the dosage instructionson the label. Because herbs in dried form tend to lose their potency rather quickly, be sure to check the label for the expiration date.
Complimentary Herbal Formulas
- Integral Heath Apothecary’s Sugar Balance Formula is designed for those individuals who are vulnerable to blood sugar balancing problems, particularly hypoglycemia and adult onset diabetes. Ingredients: Goats Rue, Dandelion Root, Gentian Root, Siberian Ginseng, Gymnema Syvestrea, Devils Club and Kelp.
Chinese Patent Remedies
- Yeuchung Pills (“Jade Spring Pills”): This extremely effective formula is designed to treat Type II diabetes, or what the Chinese used to call “sugar-urine disease.” Formulated to nurture and support the yin essence, especially the yin of the Kidney,Spleen/Pancreas, and Lung, the five herbs in this formula (rehmannia root, pueraria root, trichosanthes root, licorice, and schisandra fruit) work to subdue the Heat and reduce dampness and phlegm. Take 10 pills twice daily.
- Liu Wei Di Huang Wan (“Six Flavor RehmanniaPills”): This formula contains six gentle, supportive herbs to strengthen the yin and support Kidney and Spleen energies. Rehmannia, the archetypal herb to support the body’s yin essence, reigns as Emperor;attending herbs include cornus fruit, dioscorea root,moutan bark, poria fungus, and alisma root. Used for diabetes and other yin-deficient conditions that involve dry skin, dry mucous membranes, excess urination, and muscle wasting, this formula can be taken for long periods of time to treat such symptoms as restlessness, chronic low back pain, dizziness,and ringing in the ears. Take eight pellets three times daily or twelve pellets twice daily.These Chinese patent remedies are gentle and can be safely combined with any of the following Western herbs. If you need help choosing the most effective formula or combination of herbs for your symptoms, consult an experienced herbalist.
- Spleen 3 (“Great Brightness”): This is the “masterpoint” of the Spleen meridian, meaning that it provides strong support for Earth energies and the organs associated with Earth (Spleen/Pancreas and Stomach). Since Earth is considered the mother of Metal (Lung energies), this strong supportive point benefits the Lungs and generally supports immune(wei chi) functions; in diabetes, however, its most important function is to help the digestive system operate efficiently and effectively.Location: Spleen 3 is located on the inner part of the foot, along the arch in the depression on the side of the big toe. Gently massage with your fingers in a circular, clockwise motion.
- Spleen 6 (“Three Yin Meeting”): This is one of the most important acupoints for supporting the yin energy of the body, mind, and spirit. In diabetes, it is said, for every glass of water you drink, you urinate two glasses’ worth; by stimulating this point, you’ll help to replace this vital, life-giving water.Spleen 6 also supports the Spleen and Stomach energies,promoting healthy digestion and the proper assimilation of nutrients.Location: Spleen 6 is located approximately three inches above the interior ankle bone, in a depression next to the tibia. Gently massage with your fingers in a circular, clockwise motion.
- ConceptionVessel 12 (“Sea of Nutritive Energy”): This point helps to balance Earth energies, specifically the energy of the Spleen/Pancreas and Stomach.Assisting the digestive system in its metabolism of chi and blood, it makes sure to route properly the leftover “sludge” to the intestines for elimination. If you suffer from chronic sugar cravings, fatigue, or general feelings of sluggishness, stimulating this point will help support the pancreas and digestive system to resolve these problems, which are commonin diabetics.Location: Conception Vessel 12 is located on the midline of the stomach, approximately two inches below the lower end of the breastbone or about four inches above the belly button. Gently massage it with your fingers in a clockwise, circular motion.
Questions to Ask Yourself
- How do I take nourishment away from myself in order to nourish those around me?
- What can I do to take care of myself?
- Why do I have difficulty asking for what I need or want?
- What would happen if my wishes were fulfilled?
- How do I use food to fulfill my emotional needs?
- What does food insulate and protect me from?
- What do I need to be protected from?
- What’s eating me up inside?
While Earth imbalances are often connected with diabetes, many of the physical symptoms of this disease relate to a deficiency in Water; achy or weak lower back, cold hands and feet, tendency to edema(water retention), fear, phobias, fatigue, lack of will, and loss of motivation. The Chinese believe that Water’s tendency to get caught up in excessive brooding or reflection weakens the functions of the Spleen, which in turn increases the body’s vulnerability to diabetic or hypoglycemic reactions.To help you understand better the underlying Water (Kidney) imbalances, ask yourself these questions:
- How do my fears-of rejection, humiliation,pain, and death-prevent me from making myself heard?
- How can I learn to stand up for myself and my beliefs?
- What can I do to restore my motivation and will to live?
- How can I accept my mortality without living in fear of it?