By Qineng Tan, L.Ac., Ph.D. & Xiaomei Cai, L.Ac., Ph.D.
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
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:
- Feeling tired and hungry all the time
- Feeling thirsty all the time
- Having to urinate frequently
- Dry, itchy skin and/or eyes
- Blurry vision
- Feeling light-headed or jittery
- Excessive sweating
- Cuts and sores are slow to heal
- Yeast infections
- 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
carbohydrate foods to bring the sugar levels back up. The common signs of a hypoglycemic attack include:
- Clammy skin, sweating
- Feeling shaky or weak
- 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
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
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- Avocados – low in carbohydrates, high in fiber and healthy fats, adding avo to your salad will help you feel satisfied.
- 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.
- 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.