by Shihan Mary Bolz
Diabetes is a condition of hyperglycemia (high blood sugar levels). When the body takes in simple carbohydrates, like refined sugar and refined flour products, the body quickly digests them and then floods the bloodstream with glucose. The pancreatic beta cells must respond again and again to this excessive level in order to bring the sugar into the body’s cells. When this occurs, the blood sugar levels drop dramatically (this is actually a condition of hypoglycemia, low blood sugar) and that information is given to the hypothalamus, pituitary and thyroid glands. These glands then communicate to the liver that the stored glycogen must be changed back into sugar and released into the bloodstream to raise the blood sugar levels. This is the body’s way of attempting again and again to replace and balance the blood sugar levels. If the body must constantly send out insulin to balance the effect of a simple carbohydrate meal or snack, the pancreas and other organs will be overtaxed. When the burden constantly falls on the adrenals, pituitary and liver to counterbalance the aftereffects, these organs will suffer and get depleted as well. Diabetes occurs when the body cannot use glucose for fuel because either the pancreas has broken down and is not able to make enough insulin or the insulin that is available is not effective.
Western medicine treats diabetes by attempting to lower blood sugar levels through prescribing insulin or oral drugs. But too much insulin or irregular eating habits can cause hypoglycemia in diabetics and is called “insulin reaction.” Also, if the insulin is discontinued, the blood sugar levels will immediately rise and even the long term use of insulin will not prevent other diabetic complications, such as renal failure, neuropathy, retinopathy and cardiac distress.
Traditional Chinese doctors have been treating diabetes for many centuries, long before the advent of modern prescription drugs. The good news also is that Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has a number of safe, effective and non-addictive alternatives which have been used in Asia for hundreds and thousands of years.
In ancient China, what we now call diabetes was traditionally called xiao he. Xiao he literally means “flowing away and thirst.” One can imagine that this refers to the thirst of the patient and the flowing away of abnormal amounts of fluids through urination. Xiao he was recognized as a specific disease as early as the second century BCE when it was described as being the result of long-term consumption of fatty, rich, and sweet foods. The term diabetes mellitus as it is used in conventional Western medicine, is a mix of Greek and Latin terms. Diabetes in Greek describes the process of “flowing through,” referring to the excessive urination which even a great thirst cannot replace. The Greek term, in this sense, is surprisingly similar to the Chinese “xiao he,” describing a pathological process. The term mellitus, derived from Latin “mel” or honey, refers to the sweet taste and smell of the patient’s urine. In modern Chinese medical texts, diabetes is called tang niao bing or “sugar urine disease.”
The hallmark of professional Oriental medicine is what is known as “treatment based on pattern discrimination.” Modern Western medicine bases its treatment on a disease diagnosis. This means that two patients diagnosed as suffering from the same disease will get the same treatment. Traditional Oriental medicine also takes the patient’s disease diagnosis into account. However, the choice of treatment is not based on the disease so much as it is on what is called the patient’s pattern, and it is treatment based on pattern discrimination which is what makes Oriental medicine the holistic, safe, and effective medicine it is.
People suffering from diabetes have the same disease and similar symptoms, but they also each individually have many other different symptoms. Some people are more cold, others more hot, they have different constitutions, ages, and sex, and other signs that are different. In Oriental medicine, treatment is designed to rebalance the entire pattern of imbalance in each individual as well as address the major complaint or disease. There is a saying in Traditional Chinese medicine:
“One disease, different treatment
Different disease, same treatment”
This means that, in Oriental medicine, two patients with the same named disease diagnosis may receive very different treatments if their Chinese medical patterns are different, while two patients diagnosed with completely differently named diseases may receive the same treatment if their Chinese medical pattern is the same. Oriental medicine treatment is predicated primarily on one’s pattern discrimination, not on one’s named disease diagnosis. Therefore, each person is treated individually.
Since every patient gets the treatment which is correct to restore balance in their particular body, there are also no unwanted side effects. Side effects come from forcing one part of the body to behave while causing an imbalance in some other part of the body. Oriental medicine looks at the entire body and mind as a single, unified whole, curing imbalance in one area of the body while causing it in another is unacceptable and not sensible.
While not understandable to the average Westerner in all probability, it may still be useful to the reader to have the primary pattern discrimination mechanisms listed that would be used by an Oriental medicine doctor. These are the following: 1)Lung heat with fluid damage 2) Stomach heat accumulation 3) Kidney yin deficiency and yin and yang dual vacuity 4) Spleen deficiency 5) Liver depression with stagnation of liver energy 6) liver depression transforming into heat 7) liver energy invading the stomach 7) Energy and yin dual deficiency 8) heart-lung dual deficiency 9) Heart-spleen dual deficiency 10) Disharmony between the heart and kidneys 11) liver blood deficiency 12) spleen-kidney yang deficiency 13) blood stasis 14) phlegm dampness 15) phlegm heat.
Although there are many patterns one may encounter in patients with either hypoglycemia or diabetes, the spleen and stomach sit squarely in the center of the disease mechanisms leading to diabetes.
Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine and Diabetes
There is no Chinese “diabetes herb” or even a “diabetes formula” which will work for all sufferers of this disease. Chinese medicinals are individually prescribed based on a person’s pattern discrimination, not on a disease diagnosis like diabetes. Also, most people’s diabetic condition is a combination of different Chinese patterns and disease mechanisms, therefore professional Chinese medicine never treats diabetes with herbal “singles.” Chinese herbal medicine is based on rebalancing patterns, and patterns in real-life patients almost always have more than a single element. An Oriental medical doctor almost always prescribes herbs in multi-ingredient formulas, anywhere from 6-18 or more different herbs in one formula. When an Oriental medical doctor reads a prescription by another Oriental medical doctor, they can tell not only what the patient’s pattern discrimination is, but also their probable signs and symptoms. That means the Oriental doctor does not just combine several medicinals which are all reputed to be “good for diabetes,” but they carefully formulate each prescription to rebalance every aspect of the patient’s body-mind. Therefore, it is strongly recommended that those who wish to experience the many benefits of Chinese herbal medicine, to see a qualified professional practitioner who can do a professional pattern discrimination and write an individual prescription.
What about acupuncture? As in the herbal prescription, when a person comes for an appointment, the practitioner will ask them what their main symptoms are, look at their tongue and the coating on it, will feel and listen to the pulses at the radial arteries on both wrists and ask what seems like myriad questions about their bodily functions. Based on their Traditional Chinese medicine pattern discrimination, the practitioner will select anywhere from one to many points to be needled. In general, it is best if one can get acupuncture every day for the first couple of weeks if diabetes is really severe. Once the symptoms start to subside, the treatments can be spaced out to twice or once a week. Since diabetes is a chronic, enduring disease, when acupuncture is used, it is usually done on a regular basis for extended periods of time interspersed with regular breaks.
Three free therapies available:
Diet: Three main issues involved: 1) Avoid foods which lead to stomach heat 2) Avoid foods which damage the spleen 3) Eat foods which help build yin in the body and the blood. Foods which cause stomach heat are hot, acrid, spicy foods; greasy, fatty, fried foods and alcohol. Foods which damage the spleen are uncooked, chilled foods. Avoid ice cream and sugar, dairy products, raw salads, fruit juices, very sweet fruits, nuts, refined flour products, fatty meats. The way to build yin and blood is to avoid slimy, rich, turbid, and thick-flavored foods.
A clear, moderate, bland diet is most appropriate. Good quality, organic whole foods are very flavorful and need little tampering with for flavor. Real problem foods are: coffee, chocolate and alcohol, hot, peppery foods and extremely sour foods.
Second free therapy: Exercise. It costs nothing to go for a walk. But a good exercise program can be worth paying for if the person needs an incentive and discipline to do it. Also, balanced exercise can be worth more then gold for one’s health.
The third free therapy: Relaxation. Diabetes is made worse with stress. For deep relaxation to be therapeutic medically, it needs to be more than just mental equilibrium. it needs to be somatic as well as mental. All of the muscles need to relax simultaneously with the mind. Ritualized, regular practice will have great results.
Get a recipe book on Chinese medicinal porridges, do some cooking. Get a book on home Chinese massage. Enjoy it with a partner or self massage. Self massage is very popular in China and Japan. Do kick the sugar habit, it is much safer and wiser than medicated drug therapy.
You may be thinking, “all of this sounds great, but it is not practical for me.” “I don’t have the time.” What is your time for? Only to be stressed and try to make money and then not be healthy enough to ever enjoy all that material wealth anyway? The solution to diabetes is in your own hands and mind. Get busy, and go after it!