Created by the Center for Spirituality & Healing and Charlson Meadows.

Consider Integrative Therapies to Help Diabetes Management

Nearly 24 million Americans have diabetes.  For these people and those at risk of developing diabetes, integrative therapies offer additional options, in conjunction with conventional medical management, to help manage blood sugar, optimize function, and minimize complications. 

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes Mellitis is a disease in which the body does not produce or properly use insulin, which affects how the body is able to use glucose for energy.

In order for cells to use glucose for energy, insulin must be present. In people with diabetes, the pancreas either produces little or no insulin (type 1), or the cells do not respond appropriately to the insulin that is produced (type 2 and gestational diabetes).

The three main types of diabetes are

  • Type 1, also known as juvenile diabetes
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Gestational diabetes (occurs in pregnant women during the pregnancy, but resolves after delivery)

How is Diabetes Treated?

When your physician diagnoses diabetes, it is likely that he or she will suggest the following:

  • Insulin (always in type 1 and sometimes in type 2)
  • Monitoring blood sugar levels
  • Oral medication (type 2)

The goal of all diabetic treatment is to normalize blood-glucose (sugar) levels as much as possible, and to minimize the following long-term complications of diabetes.

Lifestyle changes are also critical in diabetes management, and they are an expected part of a conventional medical care plan. Some changes include:

  • Healthy, low-fat, high-fiber, nutritious diet, minimizing simple and processed sugars
  • Exercise
  • Weight loss (if appropriate) or maintenance of a healthy weight

What Are Some Integrative Therapies to Consider for Diabetes?

The following therapies and healing practices are primarily ways of managing type 1, and managing or eliminating type 2 diabetes, optimizing function, and minimizing complications.

When integrating therapeutic approaches to diabetes, all patients must recognize the importance of careful monitoring of blood glucose levels and potential side effects, as well as frequent communication with your medical care team.

Traditional Chinese Medicine

TCM focuses on individualizing a plan to restore balance and harmony, depending upon the nature of the diagnosed imbalance. The most commonly used methods in TCM include acupuncture, moxibustion, Chinese herbal medicine, diet therapy, mind/body exercises (Qigong and Tai Chi), and Tui Na (Chinese massage).

In 1997, the National Institutes of Health released a consensus statement saying that the use of acupuncture in the treatment of diabetes was classified as "effective, but further evidence required." Acupuncture has been shown to lower glucose levels, and has been demonstrated to improve peripheral neuropathy and neuropathic pain, one of the most common complications of type 2 diabetes.

Many Chinese herbs have been used safely for millennia, however, good data on herb/drug interactions is limited, and the FDA does not regulate it. Therefore, it is important to work with a reliable and trustworthy source. Some herbs commonly used in diabetes treatment include: Panax Ginseng, Momodica charantia, Lagenaria siceraria, and Psidium gnajava.

Botanical Medicines and Supplements

The following supplements can be beneficial for those with diabetes. However, you should talk with your healthcare provider before adding botanicals to your health regimen and ask about the right dosage for you.

  • Alpha-Lipoic Acid (ALA) is a strong antioxidant which improves glucose uptake and prevents glycosylation, a process in the body where sugars are inappropriately hooked onto proteins and fats.
  • Essential Fatty Acids can protect against the nerve and blood vessel damage from diabetes by increasing insulin secretion and lowering cholesterol levels.
  • Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant that improves insulin resistance and reduces free radical tissue damage. It is important for healthy immunity and wound healing.
  • Ginkgo Biloba is an antioxidant and also acts to stabilize cell membranes. In diabetes, it is used primarily to help with peripheral circulation, but does carry some risk of bleeding.


Mind/Body Practices

Chronic stress increases the release of glucose from the liver and decreases insulin receptor sensitivity, making insulin work less effectively.

Stress management helps individuals more effectively regulate their diet and exercise, which are both important in managing diabetes. Meditation, the Relaxation Response, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), and biofeedback are just a few of the practices that have been used to manage stress, and have positive impacts on the diabetic patient.

Resources

Books

Brand-Miller, J., MD (2004). The New Glucose Revolution Life Plan: Discover How to Make the Glycemic Index the Foundation for a Lifetime of Healthy Eating. Perseus Publishing.

Davis, B., Barnard, T. (2003). Defeating Diabetes. Healthy Living Publications.

Hammerly, M., MD. Diabetes: The New Integrative Approach: How to Combine the Best of Traditional and Alternative Therapies.

Mcdougall, J., MD (1991). The Mcdougall Program: 12 Days to Dynamic Health. Penguin Group.

Websites

The American Diabetes Association: http://www.diabetes.org/home.jsp

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/

Healthy Humans has diabetes online programs: https://info.healthyhumans.com

The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation: http://www.jdrf.org/

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