Acupuncture Therapy for Diabetes
Diabetes is a metabolic imbalance of the endocrine system that causes dangerously excessive levels of blood sugar. Diabetes mellitus or Type 1 diabetes occurs when the immune system ravages the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. These diabetics (1 in 250) need to take insulin for the rest of their lives, or get a pancreas transplant.
About 90% of diabetics have Type 2 diabetes, which is insulin insensitivity stimulated by two hormone dysfunctions: insulin resistance and faulty leptin signaling. The symptoms: increased blood sugar, hypertension, and elevated cholesterol.
Many pharmaceutical medications are able to control Type 2 diabetes symptoms (high blood sugar) some of the time, but none have been able to target the causes behind those symptoms (hormonal imbalance).
The New England Journal of Medicine linked the drug Avandia to a 43 percent increased risk of heart attack, along with a 64 percent higher risk of cardiovascular death, compared to patients using other methods1.
Instead of intervening in your body’s processes to shut down a certain symptom, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) targets the root imbalances behind those symptoms. How? By stimulating the flow of blood, oxygen, nutrients and hormones like insulin2.
Because no single organ or symptom exists in isolation, but functions within your biosystem, TCM practitioners identify and target patterns of dysfunction – overlapping symptoms you likely don’t realize are related (like those listed above). Studies have shown these two approaches can be combined into a complimentary treatment plan.
If you’d like to try targeting the biochemical imbalance behind your Type 2 diabetes symptoms, speak with a professional, licensed acupuncturist today in Santa Monica by calling (424) 365-1800 or contact Vitality Integrative Medicine online.
How does acupuncture work?
As with any medical procedure, results vary from patient to patient, depending on age, genetics, condition severity, as well as environmental and health factors. Consult your healthcare practitioner before embarking on your treatment journey.
The interstitium, a highly organized, fluid-filled space between our skin and our muscles, functions like a river. It can get flooded by excessive hormones, enzymes, or toxins3.
Drugs create a dam that blocks symptoms of this flooding. Acupuncture redirects the flow of these damaging biochemicals, much like an irrigation canal redirects floodwaters. For decades its effectiveness has been demonstrated by controlled clinical studies4.
How to access this flowing pathway – the interstitium – that makes up 20% of our body fluid?
The points on the body (meridians) targeted by acupuncture needles have very low electrical resistance. Through them it’s easier to stimulate the “biochemical messengers” that release hormones or enzymes to correct biochemical imbalances – cell by cell, electron by electron.
Acupuncturists insert long, thin needles into your skin to stimulate these meridians – each with its own function, and all with very high concentrations of:
- nerve endings and bundles
- cells that affect immune function
- lymph nodes, and capillaries
Studies have shown that acupuncture can activate the pituitary gland (our hormone producer and releaser) to help correct imbalances, and regulate hormones like insulin2.
The collagen in these meridians is arranged into channels of fluid – stimulating it with needles forms a route through which these biochemicals can flow. The same isn’t true for sham acupuncture, which typically involves inserting needles at random places. Studies have shown that some diabetes dysfunctions are resolved more successfully with acupuncture than pharmaceuticals.
Acupuncture can help diabetes patients by:
- lowering blood sugar levels
- reducing the release of hormones that raise blood sugar levels
- controlling symptoms like excessive hunger, excessive thirst, and excessive urination
- improving blood microcirculation and heart muscle contractibility
- improving blood circulation to the arms and legs
- lowering pain threshold
Effects on DGP (diabetic gatroparesis)
Diabetic gastroparesis – or delayed movement of food from the stomach to the small intestine – is caused by high glucose levels in diabetics that leads to vagus nerve damage, which disables it from properly regulating stomach muscles.
A series of 9 clinical studies investigated the efficacy of acupuncture versus pharmaceutical medications for the treatment of DGP.
Acupuncture successfully restored digestive function and abated gastroparesis. Even at the six month follow-up, researchers found acupuncture therapy was significantly more effective than two different types of pharmaceutical medications5.
Effects on blood sugar and HbA1c levels
Besides carrying oxygen, your hemoglobin molecules have the ability to join with glucose – which allows medical providers to monitor your blood glucose (HbA1c) levels.
HbA1c is your average blood glucose level for the last two to three months. Once you know your HbA1c level you can intervene to lower it, and help reduce your risk of complications.
Herbal acupuncture (HA) is a modern technique that injects natural herbs or biologic substances into meridians. Studies show that in patients with Type 2 diabetes, herbal acupuncture significantly reduces levels of:
- glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c)
- fasting blood glucose (FBG)
- postprandial (PP2hr) glucose6
After analyzing your health history, lifestyle habits, diet and appetite, current symptoms, and sleep patterns, your TCM practitioner may perform one or more of the following:
pulse diagnosis: checking 9 pulse positions to assess both pulse speed and quality (floating, sinking, slippery, tight, wiry, excessive, deficient, abrupt, intermittent, knotted), while detecting warm or cold tendencies that indicate specific biochemical imbalances
facial diagnosis: your facial colors (white, dull white, bright white, yellow, orange/yellow, red, blue/green, black) and qualities (moist and clear or dry and lifeless) can alert a practitioner to seek further indications of a particular imbalance
tongue analysis: tongue regions correspond to various organs; tongue color (pink, pale, red, scarlet, purple, or blue) indicates cold and heat (which represents blood stagnation and mineral deficiencies), while tongue coat (normal, thick, dry, moist, wet, sticky) may indicate digestive stagnation and food retention; after diagnosis, your tongue can also gauge treatment progress
voice analysis: acupuncturists listen for five types: shouting, laughing, singing, weeping, groaning – each type of vocal quality provides information about a certain biosystem
palpation: palpating your abdomen or specific pressure points to determine which areas are: painful, tender, swollen, too warm or too cold, sweaty, or discolored
There are several different types of acupuncture. Each has slightly different uses and is performed differently – alone, or in conjunction with pharmaceutical medications.
Long, hair-thin needles are inserted into your skin at specific meridians that correspond to your imbalance. You might feel a brief aching or stinging sensation as the needles go in, but many patients feel no pain.
The needle depth varies depending on the practitioner and the type of imbalance, but they’ll never be placed deep enough to puncture organs. The needles are left in place for 5 to 30 minutes, but no longer than one hour, before being removed.
After your treatment, you’ll be reassessed and given homecare instructions. Many practitioners will also recommend certain Chinese herbs to enhance rebalancing. Always discuss them with your medical provider, as many herbs can interact dangerously with certain medications.
Chronic conditions like diabetes may require 12 or more treatments, plus regular visits to manage symptoms long-term. These maintenance treatments can help you decrease stress, manage pain, boost immunity, and improve your energy.
Electroacupuncture is nearly identical to standard acupuncture, but it involves inserting two needles into each acupuncture point and passing an electrical impulse from one needle to the other. This treatment is quite effective for relieving pain associated with diabetic neuropathy, a condition occurring from nerve damage caused by diabetes.
Many studies have shown that low intensity and low-frequency electroacupuncture can be used alone or in combination with other treatments – including diet, exercise, and Chinese herbs – to help reduce insulin resistance and increase insulin sensitivity.
In 2015, Acupuncture in Medicine reviewed a group of studies where electroacupuncture was combined with an anti-diabetic medication, called metformin. Researchers found the electroacupuncture-metformin combination offered better glucose lowering effects and greater insulin sensitivity than metformin alone2.
This type involves deep-needle stimulation of your wrist and ankle nerves. It’s typically used to treat pain associated with diabetic peripheral neuritis, which is nerve damage caused by diabetes. A number of studies show that this treatment is useful for reducing or 7.
Blood sugar monitoring and acupuncture
Acupuncture is only one part of your self-management regimen. You should continue monitoring your blood sugar levels and following your healthcare provider’s instructions about diet, exercise and lifestyle changes.
Even if managed carefully, your blood sugar level can change suddenly, as your body responds to foods, exercise, medications, illness, stress, and changes in hormone levels. Blood sugar levels can be recorded as often as four times each day, or more if you’re taking insulin. People with type 2 diabetes who don’t take insulin check their blood sugar much less often.
If you receive insulin therapy, you may monitor your blood sugar levels with a constant glucose monitor to reduce the number of finger-sticks necessary.
A1C testing is more accurate for measuring the effectiveness of your diabetes treatment than repeated daily blood sugar tests at home. Elevated A1C levels indicates the need for intervention: medication, insulin, diet, exercise and potentially acupuncture therapy. Always work with your healthcare practitioner to decide which treatment to use when.
Acupuncture and gestational diabetes
Like other diabetes types, gestational diabetes requires controlling your blood sugar levels so your baby stays healthy and you avoid pregnancy complications. Treatment includes monitoring your blood sugar and, in some cases, using insulin or oral medications. Proper diet and exercise are also essential.
Medical personnel will monitor your blood sugar levels while you’re in labor. If your blood sugar suddenly spikes, your baby may release compensatory insulin—causing dangerously low blood sugar right after birth. Speak to your acupuncturist about your personal gestational diabetes treatment plan. Treatments vary among patients due to differences in many factors, including age, weight, and medical history.
Safety and side effects
When performed correctly and under sterile conditions, acupuncture is very safe. However, it’s vital that your practitioner is skilled, licensed, and highly experienced. Ask that he or she wear sterile surgical gloves, and make sure he or she uses FDA regulated needles.
FDA regulated acupuncture needles are:
- single use
- filiform (solid)
- highly flexible
- super fine (0.16-0.46 mm in diameter and 13-130 mm in length)
- high grade stainless steel based (sometimes adorned with copper or gold handles)
Like all medical treatments, acupuncture presents some risks. These minor side effects are common and typically resolve quickly: aching at the needle insertion points, soreness, bleeding, or bruising at the insertion points.
These serious side effects are rare – if you experience them call 911 or get emergency medical attention right away:
- severe pain or bleeding at or near the insertion points
- headache, dizziness, or fainting
- nausea and vomiting
- heart palpitations
- excessive sweating
Acupuncture may be less effective or cause complications if practiced with these treatments and medical conditions:
- fear or phobia of needles
- bleeding disorders like hemophilia
- taking blood-thinning drugs like warfarin
- immune system disorders
- skin disorders or infection at or near the needle placement sites
- allergies to metal like stainless steel
- valvular heart disease
- an active infection
If you’re an HIV/AIDs or hepatitis patient, or if you’re currently pregnant or nursing, ask your practitioner whether acupuncture is right for you. Certain medical conditions can affect your candidacy for acupuncture treatment. Always consult your health care professional before deciding which treatment to try first.
Reserve your appointment
If you’re interested in detecting and targeting the hormonal imbalance behind your Type 2 diabetes, contact a TCM practitioner, or certified acupuncturist. Many family medicine doctors are now getting certified. To learn more speak with a Santa Monica diabetes specialist today by calling (424) 365-1800 or contact Vitality Integrative Medicine online.
3. Petros C. Benias, Rebecca G. Wells, Bridget Sackey-Aboagye,Heather Klavan, Jason Reidy, Darren Buonocore. Structure and Distribution of an Unrecognized Interstitium in Human Tissues. Scientific Reports volume 8, Article number: 4947 (2018)
4. Tripathi, Poonam, et al. “Alternative Therapies Useful in the Management of Diabetes: A Systematic Review.” Journal of Pharmacy and Bioallied Sciences, vol. 3, no. 4, 2011, p. 504., doi:10.4103/0975-7406.90103.
5. He H, Li K, Zhang L & Hu MQ. (2015). Systematic Review of Acupuncture in the Treatment of Diabetic Gastroparesis. Journal of Clinical Acupuncture and Moxibustion. 31(8)
7. Zhu, Li Bing, et al. “Wrist-Ankle Acupuncture for the Treatment of Pain Symptoms: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 2014, 15 July 2014, pp. 1–9., doi:10.1155/2014/261709.
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