Type 2 Diabetes - Chinese Medicine vs. Western Medicine

Introduction

Type 2 Diabetes is a disease where patients have elevated glucose (sugar) levels in their blood all the time. That sugar can get deposited into different areas of the body and cause problems. For example, it could get deposited in the eyes and cause blindness, in the brain and cause a stroke, in the kidneys and cause kidney failure, in the heart and cause heart attacks. Symptoms of diabetes include increased hunger, increased thirst, frequent urination, and extreme fatigue.

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Western View on Diabetes

Western medicine focuses on the hormone called insulin, which is made in the pancreas and pushes glucose molecules from the blood into cells. The cause is thought to be genetic or due to lifestyle factors such as eating too much processed foods and not exercising enough. There is also research showing that too much fat in the diet can lead to diabetes because the fat clogs up the blood and covers cell walls, which makes it hard for insulin to move glucose into cells.


Western Treatment of Diabetes

The way western medicine treats Type 2 diabetes is through diet and exercise. The diet needs to remove processed foods and any foods that have added sugar. This prevents your blood sugar from spiking. Exercise also improves insulin sensitivity, which means insulin can do its job better. Doctors might give insulin pills or other pills that lower blood sugar levels.


TCM View on Diabetes

The American Diabetes Association published a great article that explains how TCM views and treat diabetes. TCM attributes the symptoms of diabetes to three main factors:

  1. Improper diet: too much sweet, fatty, oily foods; alcohol; hot drinks such as coffee or tea

  2. Emotional disturbances: stress, anxiety, depression

  3. Yin deficiency, which leads to fatigue

TCM also divides diabetes into three types: upper, middle, and lower. Upper diabetes is associated with the lungs and is characterized by excessive thirst. Middle diabetes is associated with the stomach and is characterized by excessive hunger. Lower diabetes is associated with the kidneys and is associated with excess urination.


TCM Treatment of Diabetes

Whereas western medicine is focused on the blood sugar levels, TCM is focused on the symptoms, such as excess thirst, hunger, urination, and fatigue.


Acupoints

A TCM doctor may do acupuncture on the patient, which has been show to help reduce blood glucose levels in diabetic patients.

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A typical session would involve 4 to 12 needles that would be put in place for 10 to 30 minutes. The doctor may also use moxibustion in conjunction with acupuncture. If the patient has an aversion to needles, Tui Na Massage can be used instead of acupuncture.


Herbal Medicine

Herbal medicine would be prescribed based on the patient’s specific symptoms. For example, a patient with excessive thirst has lung yin deficiency, so they might be given Yu Quan Wan.

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Diet Therapy

Since TCM views diabetes as characterized by a deficiency in yin and an excess of internal heat, a TCM doctor would advise the patient to eat more foods that nourish yin and reduce heat. Many vegetables are cooling and beneficial for diabetes, such as pumpkin, soybeans (i.e., tofu, soymilk), string beans, sweet potato, yam, tomato, and millet. Many fruits also help, including crab apple, guava, plum, strawberry, and mulberry. TCM also recommends eating meals at regular times of day.

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The patient should also reduce foods that cause create heat and inflammation such as meat, greasy or oily foods, processed foods, and junk food.


Qi Gong

Qi Gond involves breathing and exercises that are mentally calming, similar to yoga.. Although Qi Gong is not the main treatments for diabetes, it has shown to be a valuable add-on to diabetes treatment plans. There are specific Qi Gong exercises for diabetes.


Conclusion

Both western medicine and TCM emphasize the importance that food plays in Type 2 Diabetes. Both tell the patient to get rid of processed foods, highly oily and fatty foods, and sugary foods. Western medicine focuses on the blood sugar levels and insulin, with treatments mainly being diet and exercise and maybe pills. TCM focuses on treating the symptoms. Depending on the symptom you have, a TCM doctor would give different treatments regarding acupoints, herbs, and food.


Personally, if I got Type 2 Diabetes, I would probably do both the western and TCM recommendations except the pills from western medicine. The lifestyle changes are fairly aligned under both medical systems, with a focus on healthy eating. TCM also offers more treatment options such as acupoint massage and herbs, which I would be willing to try.


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