Acupuncture and Diabetes
What is Diabetes and How Does it Affect the Body?
Diabetes is an endocrine disorder, which means it is caused by a hormonal imbalance, specifically the hormone Insulin. Insulin is an important aspect of metabolism and blood-sugar regulation. When Insulin is not regulated properly it can affect the body’s many systems in various ways. Typically, a patient will see an endocrinologist for this kind of disorder. Diabetes affects the entire body, creating systemic issues as the disease progresses. These may include but are not limited to, diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage), retinopathy (damage to the retina), and nephropathy (deterioration of kidney function). Many different Healthcare practitioners may be needed to manage a patient’s growing needs. While an endocrinologist may be the Primary Healthcare Provider of a patient with Diabetes, a patient may also need to see a Dermatologist, Cardiologist, Ophthalmologist, Podiatrist, Dentist, or Dietitian to help manage systemic issues that arise if the disease progresses.[i] In addition to these Healthcare professionals, an Acupuncturist or Traditional Chinese Medical Practitioner can also help patients with Type 2 Diabetes with their Healthcare management.
How is Diabetes Typically Managed?
Recommendations for managing Type 2 Diabetes typically include reducing stress levels, alcohol intake, and tobacco use as well as increasing regular exercise and eating a balanced, lower sugar diet. And finally, the usage of medication.[ii] Common Diabetes medications such as Metformin work by reducing the size of fatty acids in the body, reducing inflammatory cells, increasing glucose regulating protein hormones which also break down fatty acids, and preserving the cells in the pancreas which create insulin.[iii] While these are effective mechanisms to help patients with this systemic disease, Diabetes medications come with side effects that can range from mild to severe, typically including gastrointestinal problems. These side effects can include stomach pain and discomfort, diarrhea, muscle pain, and cramping, decreased appetite, lower back or side pain, and fast or shallow breathing.[iv] There are several types of gastrointestinal complications that stem from Type 2 Diabetes without medication which include Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver disease, intestinal enteropathy (diarrhea, constipation), and gastroparesis (abnormal intestinal movement).[v] For this reason, a patient may want to avoid medications especially if they already suffer from gastrointestinal effects of Diabetes, to begin with.
Treatment vs. Cure
Treatment is an intervention that prevents the progression of an illness. A cure is an intervention that leads to the resolution of the disorder so that no further treatment is needed. Therefore, it is important to select the appropriate treatment to help patients who may never be able to cure their illness to manage how it affects their daily life. In the case of Type 1 Diabetes, it is incurable and requires lifelong treatment, in the case of Type 2 Diabetes, prevention and cure are possible, but treatment is used often.
Why Acupuncture as Opposed to or in Conjunction with Allopathic (Western) Methods?
Side effects of Acupuncture are typically minimal. Usually, the only side-effects a patient experiences may be soreness at an insertion site, achiness, or some minor bleeding. It is known to produce feelings of relaxation and wellness throughout the treatment.[vi] Acupuncture has also been found to reduce stress hormone levels and blood pressure.[vii] Stress has been known to increase blood sugar levels.[viii] Managing stress levels can contribute to positive outcomes in Diabetes management. Individuals with Diabetes are 2x as likely to suffer from high blood pressure. High blood pressure can lead to other diseases such as heart disease and stroke.[ix] Numerous studies have shown that Acupuncture is an effective treatment for high blood pressure.[x] Some obstacles with allopathic (or Western) treatment methods include patients reporting that Needle-sticking with a lancet can become a tiresome and painful process. Patients report that “anxiety,” “dislike,” “time pressures” and “forgetfulness” can all contribute to a lack of consistency with finger-pricking for blood-glucose testing.[xi] Acupuncture is a safe and often side-effect-free treatment for many ailments. Patients who are concerned about the side effects they may experience from taking medications can undergo an Acupuncture treatment and know that the risk of side effects with Acupuncture is minimal. Acupuncture can help to provide reduced Healthcare costs for the patient and their insurance companies, a feeling of wellness knowing that their Diabetes is managed, and options for having alternative treatment methods offered to manage what may be a lifelong illness. By helping to manage symptoms, the usage of Acupuncture for Type 2 Diabetes could reduce the amount of Insulin a patient would need to use. It could also affect other medications; they may require lower doses which could further reduce their risks for side effects. With blood glucose levels managed, they may need to administer Insulin through injection less frequently which would help make life more manageable.
How Effective is Acupuncture?
One Meta-analysis stated that “A large number of studies have shown that Acupuncture can significantly improve dyslipidemia (Imbalance of lipids) in diabetic patients and is no less effective than drug therapy.”[xii] ElectroAcupuncture has been found to help to reduce blood glucose levels and protect the shape of the cells which produce insulin.[xiii] Some studies show that Acupuncture can help with diabetic neuropathy.[xiv] There is some evidence to indicate that Acupuncture treatment can prevent the acquisition of Type 2 Diabetes.[xv] Current research also indicates that Acupuncture may help with weight loss, improve the management of blood glucose, protect pancreatic functions responsible for Insulin production, improve insulin resistance, and help with adjusting the balance of other hormones as well. Acupuncture has also been found to complement Diabetes treatment alongside Metformin by lowering blood glucose and increasing insulin sensitivity better than Metformin alone.[xvi]
Acupuncture offers an accessible, practical method for the treatment of Type 2 Diabetes. While researchers are still discovering how it works, current literature indicates that along with a healthy diet and exercise, Acupuncture could substantially increase the quality of life of patients who do live with Diabetes. Providing care that is practically side-effect free, while reducing the frequency of lancets sticks and medication side-effects, offers patients another treatment option for their Healthcare needs.
Angela Serabian is a Licensed Massage Therapist who has been in practice since 2017. She specializes in Medical and Injury Massage, Cupping Therapy, and IASTM (Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization). She has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology with 4 years of experience working in Non-Profit Mental Health organizations. She hopes to integrate Psychiatric, Orthopedic and Neurological therapies with Traditional Chinese Medicine.