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How to Treat Diabetes With Acupuncture and TCM

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By Qineng Tan, L.Ac., Ph.D. & Xiaomei Cai, L.Ac., Ph.D.

Early signs of diabetes include dizziness, confusion, and trouble seeing.

What is the best way to lose weight to manage diabetes? Can you keep glucose levels normal by finding the right foods to eat to lose weight? Keeping diabetes under good control requires a lot of daily effort and working with a team of health care professionals who care about you. Adding an acupuncture and TCM expert to your diabetes care team can help you manage your blood sugar and find the best diet for weight loss for you, personally.

Diabetes is one of the most prevalent health problems in the world today, and the number of people who have diabetes is growing dramatically. It is estimated that half of all people who have diabetes don’t realize they have it.

Diabetes affects people of all ages. Diabetes makes life difficult, creates complications during pregnancy (gestational diabetes), drastically increases the chances of developing other serious health problems like heart disease and stroke, and directly causes millions of deaths every year. 

Diabetes is a condition in which there is something wrong with the way the body is producing and using the hormone insulin. Insulin’s job is to help the cells of the body make use of the sugar energy from the food we eat as it travels through the body in the bloodstream. When we don’t have enough insulin to do this job, blood sugar levels get too high, and the rest of the body’s cells aren’t getting the nutrients they need to function.

There are two types of diabetes. “Type 1 diabetes” used to be called “juvenile diabetes” because it is usually diagnosed during childhood. Type 1 diabetes can actually develop at any age, and it means that the pancreas doesn’t produce the hormone insulin the way it should. The exact cause of Type 1 diabetes isn’t fully understood, but it is thought to be a type of autoimmune dysfunction that harms pancreatic cells. Only 5-10% of people with diabetes have Type 1.

Type 2 Diabetes is far more common. One in ten Americans has Type 2 Diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is also caused by problems with insulin production by the pancreas. When a person has Type 2 diabetes, cells all over the body are not responding appropriately to insulin, so the pancreas works harder to create more and more insulin. This is called “insulin resistance.”

Type 2 Diabetes usually develops over the course of several years, and during that time, people may have what we now call “prediabetes.” If you are prediabetic, it means your blood sugar levels are high, but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes. This is a window of opportunity to prevent full-fledged diabetes from becoming a problem. Learning to track blood glucose levels, keep blood sugars low, practice the best exercise to lose weight, and maintain a balanced diet can go a long way towards helping to prevent and manage diabetes.

Acupuncture is becoming more and more widely recognized as an effective adjunct treatment to help in all aspects of diabetes care and management.

Top 10 Signs of Diabetes

eye
Diabetes can cause blurred vision.

For most people, the symptoms of Type 2 diabetes are so subtle that they go unnoticed. People can have prediabetes or diabetes for years without knowing they have it. Early signs of diabetes include:

  1. Feeling tired and hungry all the time
  2. Feeling thirsty all the time
  3. Having to urinate frequently
  4. Dry, itchy skin and/or eyes
  5. Blurry vision
  6. Feeling light-headed or jittery
  7. Excessive sweating
  8. Cuts and sores are slow to heal
  9. Yeast infections
  10. Pain, tingling, or numbness in the legs and feet (diabetic neuropathy)

If blood sugar levels climb dangerously high, it is called hyperglycemia. Severe hyperglycemia might make a person feel extremely weak and thirsty, have a stomach ache or nausea, blurred vision, and feel very dizzy. 

Most of the time diabetes makes levels of blood glucose high, but sometimes people with diabetes will experience episodes of very low blood sugars, known as hypoglycemia. If a person takes too much of their diabetes medication that reduces blood sugar, or eats something that causes an imbalance, or does a lot of exercise, they might become hypoglycemic and need to take glucose tablets or eat some

Glucose testing
Glucose testing

carbohydrate foods to bring the sugar levels back up. The common signs of a hypoglycemic attack include:

  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Clammy skin, sweating
  • Feeling shaky or weak
  • Hunger
  • Light-headedness
  • Tingling in the face

If you feel these symptoms–or see someone in this kind of distress–keep calm, check blood glucose level if possible, eat or drink some fast-absorbing carbohydrates, and wait a few minutes to see how the situation improves. In extreme cases, hypoglycemics can lose consciousness and need emergency medical treatment.

Doctors make a definitive diagnosis of diabetes by measuring A1C levels, testing fasting blood sugar, or administering an oral glucose tolerance test. These different types of glucose test give doctors a reading of how high a patient’s blood glucose levels are under various circumstances. 

Treating Diabetes With Good Nutrition

Diabetes has to be carefully managed, primarily through making informed nutritional choices and getting enough exercise so as to maintain steady blood sugar levels. Many people will also need to take insulin in order to maintain normal glucose levels. Patients may be prescribed oral insulin, injectable insulin, or an automatic insulin pump. A primary care physician may be able to help with managing diabetes, but often people will also need to seek the advice of an endocrinologist and a nutritionist to help them learn how to manage their medications and carbohydrate intake appropriately. Often, patients will be advised to lose weight

Nutrition is not considered separate from medicine in TCM; rather, facilitating a proper diet is one of the primary ways TCM addresses illness and disease. Acupuncture practitioners are highly trained in nutrition and can be instrumental in helping diabetes patients find the healthiest and best way to lose weight. We do not advocate fast weight loss or trendy diets. The fastest way to lose weight is probably not going to be the best way, certainly not in terms of being able to maintain a balanced eating plan long-term. Your acupuncturist can recommend the best foods to eat to lose weight while still feeling satisfied and keeping blood sugar levels in the normal range throughout the day.

TCM and Acupuncture for Diabetes

TCM has been treating “Xiao Ke,” or “wasting and thirsting disease,” for thousands of years. According to TCM philosophy, diabetes is the result of excess heat and dampness accumulating in the body. Acupuncture treatment is employed to stimulate better function of the pancreas.

Acupuncture has been shown to help improve many types of disease related to endocrine function. Research has indicated that acupuncture treatment can help to reduce fasting and after-eating blood sugar levels, increase insulin production, and reduce insulin resistance.

Combining acupuncture treatment and the use of Metformin has been shown to be more effective for increasing insulin sensitivity than Metformin alone.

At the same time that your acupuncture provider chooses acupuncture points and herbal formulae to improve glucose levels, he or she can also help treat the other symptoms of diabetes related to nerve problems, such as blurry vision and diabetic neuropathy.

How to Treat Diabetic Neuropathy with TCM and Acupuncture

feet
Foot care is especially important when you have diabetes.

Over time, diabetes causes damage to nerve endings throughout the body. This can result in different kinds of neuropathy:

  • Peripheral neuropathy – most often causes tingling, pain, and/or numbness in the hands and feet
  • Autonomic neuropathy – compromises basic functions like the heart pumping blood, and the excretory system working due to the damage of nerves around the vital organs
  • Proximal neuropathy – causes pain and numbness in the hip and buttocks area, usually just on one side of the body
  • Focal neuropathy – nerve compression in a specific area of the body that causes tingling and weakness; examples are carpal tunnel syndrome, and cubital tunnel syndrome.

One study of diabetes patients with peripheral neuropathy showed that, after ten weeks of acupuncture treatment, the majority of them reported significant improvement in their symptoms and were able to cut down on pain medications.

Another research study showed over 95% improvement in neuropathy pain when acupuncture treatment was used in conjunction with typical medication (amitriptyline hydrochloride) to relieve pain and tingling.

Acupuncture treatment for neuropathy pain due to diabetes focuses primarily on clearing dampness that is blocking Qi from moving smoothly through the body. Chinese herbs are also instrumental for providing nutrients that people would not otherwise be able to get from their diet.

Top 5 Type 2 Diabetes Food List

avocado
avocados provide healthy fats and fiber

Getting blood sugar levels under control requires a full-time effort on the part of the patient. It can be difficult to make the necessary dietary changes to help reverse Type 2 Diabetes, but it can be done. The best way to lose weight for prediabetes diet control is to take it slow and steady, replacing high fat, high sugar foods with complex carbohydrates that take longer to be absorbed into the bloodstream. Your TCM practitioner will help you to make decisions for your specific needs, but here are some good food choices for a weight loss meal plan:

  1. High Omega-3 fatty acid fish – salmon, sardines, etc. High in protein and good fats to keep you feeling full, also helps reduce inflammation and risks for heart disease.
  2. Lots of leafy greens – full of Vitamin C and antioxidants, you can fill up on greens often without any negative effects to your blood sugar levels.
  3. Avocados – low in carbohydrates, high in fiber and healthy fats, adding avo to your salad will help you feel satisfied.
  4. Beans and Seeds – legumes and seeds like chia and flax are “super foods” because they provide the whole package: protein, fiber, complex carbohydrates and fats, plus minerals and B vitamins.
  5. Low fat Greek or plain yogurt – provides protein and is low in carbohydrates (as long as it has no added sugar), plus the natural probiotics can be beneficial. Pair with fresh berries for a healthy treat.

Acupuncture Near Me for Diabetes 

An acupuncturist with expertise in helping people manage diabetes and lose weight can be a valuable member of your health care team. Whether you suspect you might have prediabetes, have just been diagnosed with diabetes, or have been struggling with diabetes for many years, TCM methods may help you get relief from painful neuropathy, lose weight safely, and reduce your dependence on diabetes medications. Diabetes can be controlled so that it doesn’t control you.

 

*This article is for education from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine only. The education provided by this article is not approved by FDA to diagnose, prevent, treat and cure human diseases. It should not stop you from consulting with your physician for your medical conditions. Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on Qi, which is an invisible force that usually cannot be observed by modern science. Because science focuses on testing ideas about the natural world with evidence obtained through observation, these aspects of acupuncture can’t be studied by science. Therefore acupuncture and Chinese herbs are often not supported by double-blind, randomized trials, and they are considered alternative medicine therapies in the United States.

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How to Treat High Blood Pressure With Acupuncture & TCM

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By Qineng Tan, L.Ac., Ph.D. & Xiaomei Cai, L.Ac., Ph.D.

heart and blood vessels
High blood pressure makes your heart have to work harder.

What is high blood pressure? Blood pressure (BP) is the force with which blood, pumped by the heart, pushes against the inner walls of the arteries and veins. When this force is consistently high, it puts a strain on the delicate tissues of the blood vessels and makes your heart work harder. This is also called hypertension. Most people take medications to control high blood pressure. In this article we’ll discuss how to manage high blood pressure with TCM and acupuncture.

High blood pressure is very common in older adults; about half of people over the age of 60 have high blood pressure. It is very important to have your doctor regularly monitor your blood pressure, because high blood pressure, if left untreated, can lead to heart disease, arrhythmia, heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, and many other serious, life-threatening conditions. 

Your blood pressure reading is made up of two parts: systolic, which measures the force of blood being pumped away from the heart, and diastolic, the force of blood moving in between heart beats, when blood is flowing back into the heart. A normal blood pressure reading is usually considered 120/80 (systolic over diastolic). A consistent reading of BP over 130 would indicate hypertension stage 1, while a BP over 140 would be classified as hypertension stage 2. A BP over 180 signals a hypertensive crisis, and should be treated as an emergency, as it could lead to a stroke or other serious organ failure.

People with high blood pressure are advised to make lifestyle changes, including following a healthier diet, getting more exercise, and quitting smoking. Even a modest weight loss of ten pounds or so can make a big difference to reduce high blood pressure. Most people end up taking antihypertensive medications to lower blood pressure, often for the rest of their lives. Integrative care for high blood pressure that includes acupuncture treatment and herbal supplements according to TCM principles can provide natural remedies for high blood pressure, restoring the health of the circulatory system so that it might not be necessary to take drugs indefinitely.

Signs of High Blood Pressure

In many cases, there are no clear signs that a person has high blood pressure. Most people do not realize they have high blood pressure until it is measured by a medical professional. While people may think that a flushed, red face, or bouts of dizziness are symptoms of high blood pressure, these sorts of signals are not necessarily directly caused by high blood pressure. A flushed face caused by dilated blood vessels can happen for many reasons, usually because of a temporary rise in blood pressure due to heat, or cold weather, physical activity, spicy foods, hot drinks or alcohol, or a reaction to cosmetic skin products. Dizziness can actually be related to the side effects of medications prescribed for high blood pressure. The only way to know for sure is to check your blood pressure.

Many older people, especially women, with high blood pressure, experience bouts of dizziness that may be part of a hypertensive crisis – a sudden increase in blood pressure that can cause temporary dizziness or vertigo, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), or headache. A hypertensive emergency is sometimes the reason that a person visits a doctor to have a blood pressure check. It may be that hypertension has an effect on the peripheral auditory and vestibular systems, which can affect a person’s sense of equilibrium and orientation in space. 

Top 10 Causes of High Blood Pressure

smoking can cause high blood pressure
Smoking is one of the major causes of high blood pressure.

Many factors can lead to high blood pressure. Aging is one factor. If there is a family history of hypertension, you may be genetically predisposed to having high blood pressure, too. Other risk factors also increase the chances of high blood pressure:

  1. Smoking
  2. Diet high in salt and/or fat
  3. Lack of exercise, sedentary lifestyle
  4. Being overweight
  5. Stress
  6. Too much alcohol consumption
  7. Sleep apnea
  8. Thyroid and adrenal problems
  9. Kidney problems
  10. Diabetes

Medical diagnosis and treatment for high blood pressure don’t really focus on finding a root cause of the problem. General guidelines for eating less salt and fat, losing weight, and finding ways to reduce stress may help people reduce high blood pressure, but for most people, modest lifestyle modifications aren’t enough to solve the problem. 

High Blood Pressure During Pregnancy

Some women develop high blood pressure during pregnancy. Called gestational hypertension, this occurs when a woman has elevated blood pressure during the last 20 weeks of pregnancy. While this type of high blood pressure usually goes away after birth, it can be an indicator of becoming hypertensive later in life. In some cases, having high blood pressure while pregnant can cause problems, such as fetal growth restriction, which may happen if not enough nutrients are being carried to the growing fetus through the blood vessels. If high blood pressure and high levels of protein in the urine are both detected, a woman may have preeclampsia, a serious problem that is believed to be caused by restricted blood flow to the placenta. Women with high blood pressure during pregnancy are more likely to experience preterm birth and to have unplanned delivery Caesarean section.

Conventional treatment for gestational hypertension typically involves monitoring and managing high blood pressure with medications. While not many clinical studies have been done regarding acupuncture treatment for gestational hypertension and preeclampsia, TCM has been used to treat high blood pressure and complications of pregnancy for thousands of years. From the TCM point of view, high blood pressure during pregnancy may be due to a deficiency of Liver and/or Kidney Yin, or rising Liver Yang energy in response to a Kidney Yin Deficiency, or Blood or Yin Deficiency. A TCM provider would use diagnostic methods to determine the differentiation and use acupuncture points to nourish the appropriate organs, promote better flow of Blood and Qi, and to help alleviate stress.

How to Control Blood Pressure with Acupuncture and TCM

model of woman showing meridians
Qi flows along the meridians

Naturally, for many centuries, TCM practitioners had no way of measuring blood pressure with medical devices. They depended on observations of people’s symptoms, appearance, and careful checking of the pulse by hand. Thus, TCM does take into consideration the patient’s feelings and experience of symptoms of high blood pressure like:

  • Dizziness or vertigo
  • Palpitations
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness in the knees 
  • Memory loss
  • Vision loss

TCM views dizziness as being a result of too much Liver Yang energy, stagnant Phlegm, Liver-Kidney deficiency, and deficiency or stagnation of Blood and Qi. Hypertension type headaches are caused by the addition of Fire energy coming from the stomach or intestine. Liver Fire can cause irritability and flushing in the face, while Heart Fire can cause chest distress, nervousness, and insomnia. Weakness and fatigue would be caused by the addition of Dampness and accumulated excess fluid. Fluid retention can lead to a distended abdomen, edema, and low back pain.

TCM philosophy also takes into consideration the emotional state as it relates to the physical health of the body. More recent scientific research also confirms that feelings of anger stimulate the sympathetic nervous system and contribute to high blood pressure and heart disease. Finding practices that help how to control anger and find calm are another important part of managing high blood pressure.

A TCM practitioner can treat all of these various symptoms with a combination of acupuncture treatment and herbal supplements individually customized for each patient’s specific circumstance. 

One randomized study compared patients receiving acupuncture versus patients receiving sham acupuncture to treat hypertension over a six-week period. The patients who had real treatments showed significantly lower daytime and nighttime blood pressure readings. Another study showed that acupuncture treatment given to patients in conjunction with antihypertensive medications showed significant reduction in both systolic and diastolic BP readings. 

As the results of this research study of many clinical trials concluded, regular acupuncture treatments have the effect of reducing blood pressure, with the effects lasting several days after each treatment. Acupuncture treatment generally has a cumulative effect, and it is necessary to stick with it to get results. It is also crucial that you work with your healthcare practitioner to determine which dietary changes and forms of exercise will best help how to reduce high blood pressure.

Acupuncture Near Me for High Blood Pressure

Managing high blood pressure takes commitment to making long-term lifestyle changes and regular monitoring. Adding acupuncture and TCM to your integrative care regimen may help you reduce high blood pressure, improve related problems like fatigue, dizziness, and headache, and avoid more serious health problems down the line. 

 

*This article is for education from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine only. The education provided by this article is not approved by FDA to diagnose, prevent, treat and cure human diseases. It should not stop you from consulting with your physician for your medical conditions. Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on Qi, which is an invisible force that usually cannot be observed by modern science. Because science focuses on testing ideas about the natural world with evidence obtained through observation, these aspects of acupuncture can’t be studied by science. Therefore acupuncture and Chinese herbs are often not supported by double-blind, randomized trials, and they are considered alternative medicine therapies in the United States.

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