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Diabetes and Chinese Medicine

Diabetes is one of the few diseases in western medicine that was discussed in ancient Chinese medical literature. Over the last 2000 years, many Chinese herbs and acupuncture points have been identified for its treatment, and it is fairly common for diabetic patients in China to use Chinese medicine alone with satisfactory results. In the West, diabetes is seldom the main reason for a visit to the Chinese medical practitioner, who from time to time may see people with secondary manifestations of the disease such as limb numbness and pain. In most cases, diabetes is only mentioned in passing in the patient’s health profile.


Diabetes and Chinese Medicine

Diabetes is the result of a malfunction of the body in the secretion of insulin. It is often part of a more complex web of different symptoms caused by diet, lifestyle, stress, constitutional deficiency, aging and other chronic illnesses. Whether or not the patient is seeking help specifically for diabetes, our approach is still to look at the body as a whole and find out the underlying energetic imbalance(s) that has contributed to the development of all those symptoms. Chinese medicine has its own unique method of diagnosis through (1) Looking, (2) Listening, (3) Asking, and (4) Palpation, among which are the two important tools of pulses and tongue examination.


In Chinese medicine, diabetes falls under seven pathological patterns, namely Lung-Stomach Heat, Stomach Heat, Qi and Yin Deficiency, Kidney Yin Deficiency, Spleen-Stomach Qi Deficiency, Damp Heat, and Spleen-Kidney Yang Deficiency. To make matters more complicated, diabetic patients often have other chronic illnesses which give rise to mixed patterns which require different treatment protocols. These concepts are far too vast to explain here. They are not intended to confuse the readers but to highlight the fundamental difference in the Eastern and Western approaches.


Chinese medicine is not meant to replace western medicine. While Western medicine intervenes through regulating certain physiological functions with drugs, our role is to treat the person holistically and facilitate the natural healing ability of the body, and the two modalities often work very well in tandem. In some circumstances, especially when the patient is taking a lot of different Western medications, Chinese herbal remedies may not be the best choice. Acupuncture, on the other hand, works purely on the energetic level, and does not conflict with any conventional treatments. By removing energy and blood stagnation in the body, acupuncture helps to improve circulation to the extremities, and offers great relief to patients with neuropathy and peripheral vascular disease. It is also not uncommon for patients supported by acupuncture to experience fewer side effects to their Western medications and enjoy a better sense of wellbeing.


In addition to needling, dietary and life style advice is an important part of the treatment. Acupressure massage is also used when indicated to enhance the therapeutic effect.


In Chinese medicine, the focus is never on the symptoms. Even though we are talking about diabetes here, we always have to go beyond the symptoms when it comes to diagnosis and treatment plan. The beauty of Chinese medicine is that we can often “kill” many birds with one stone. Many symptoms that seem unrelated on the surface may have the same underlying cause. Once the underlying imbalance is addressed, the patients may see improvement in all areas of their health, and the effects are often long lasting. Symptoms like diabetes should not be seen as an enemy to battle with. They are messengers from the body with a call to action, giving us valuable direction as to where to look. If we only suppress the symptoms, it’s akin to shooting the messengers. If we pay attention to the symptoms, we will realize that they are each a piece in a jigsaw puzzle, and together they will lead us to where the true enemy lies. Through eliminating the root cause of the problem, we are more likely to prevent a recurrence or having it develop into other often more serious symptoms. The greatest strength of Chinese medicine is in prevention, which sadly is much neglected in modern healthcare.


Gloria Chan has a Degree in Traditional Acupuncture from the Oxford Brookes University in England with further training both in China and the U.K. She has 16 years of experience as a holistic therapist and 10 years in acupuncture. She recently moved to the U.S. and is a licensed acupuncturist in NC. Her 2 clinics in North Asheville and Hendersonville are now operating on a Pay It Forward basis where there is no price tag to the treatments. For more information, please visit her website, or call her on Tel. 828-989-3270.

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