It is estimated that 25.8 million men, women and children in the United States have diabetes, a disease in which the body does not produce or properly use insulin. Insulin is a hormone that is needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy needed for daily life. The cause of diabetes continues to be a mystery, although both genetics and environmental factors such as obesity and lack of exercise appear to play roles.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 4 people remain unaware that they live with diabetes. Sometimes the body will give warning signs that help your physician or acupuncture and Oriental medicine practitioner make an early diagnosis. It is important to get a diagnosis as soon as you suspect that diabetes may be a problem for you, as untreated diabetes affects the whole body and can lead to other medical problems, including heart disease, kidney failure, blindness, peripheral neuropathy, digestive disorders and periodontal disease.
In order to manage this condition, it is essential for people with diabetes to make healthy lifestyle choices in diet, exercise and other health habits. Another important factor when treating diabetes is creating a support team of health care professionals, including a licensed acupuncturist.
Diabetes According to Oriental Medicine
Acupuncture and Oriental medicine have been used to treat diabetes for over 2000 years. According to Oriental medicine, diabetes is caused by an imbalance of the cyclical flow of Qi within the meridians and organ systems. This particular imbalance produces heat that depletes the body’s fluids and Qi, causing symptoms such as extreme fatigue, lethargy, unexplained weight loss, excessive thirst, excessive urination, excessive eating, slow healing of cuts and wounds, infections, irritability, tingling or numbness in the extremities, and blurry vision.
Offering a holistic approach that is beneficial in the treatment of diabetes, acupuncture and Oriental medicine provides a treatment plan specifically tailored to the needs of each individual to provide relief of the symptoms associated with diabetes. Acupuncture and Oriental medicine can assist the body by helping it return to its normal healthy functioning state.
In addition to acupuncture, a variety of techniques may be used during treatment, including bodywork, lifestyle/dietary recommendations, energetic exercises and herbal medicine. The treatment for diabetes will focus on regulating the circulation of blood and Qi and balancing the organ systems to improve pancreatic function and address internal heat and the depletion of fluids.
Acupuncture Treats Peripheral Neuropathy
Peripheral neuropathy describes damage to the peripheral nervous system, which transmits information from the brain and spinal cord to every other part of the body. Peripheral means ‘situated on the edge.’ Neuropathy breaks down into two separate words, both of which originate from the Greek language. Neuro means ‘relating to nerves or the nervous system,’ and pathy means ‘disease condition’ or ‘suffering.’ Nerves serve as pathways of communication between the brain and the rest of the body. When something interrupts this process, signs of peripheral neuropathy may occur.
Common signs of peripheral neuropathy include tingling, numbness, loss of sensation, muscle weakness and pain. For some people, it is experienced as the uncomfortable sensation of “pins and needles”, or burning pain (especially at night) of their hands or feet. Others may suffer even more extreme symptoms such as muscle wasting, paralysis, or organ or gland dysfunction.
In most cases, peripheral neuropathy is secondary to another condition. There are many factors that can bring about peripheral neuropathy including diabetes, malnutrition, drugs, viral and bacterial infections, alcoholism and poison exposure. Other causes of peripheral neuropathy include compression or entrapment (such as carpal tunnel syndrome), direct physical injury to a nerve, fractures or dislocated bones, penetrated injuries, and pressure involving superficial nerves that can result from prolonged use of crutches, staying in the same position too long, tumor, intraneural hemorrhage, exposure to cold, radiation or atherosclerosis.
With more than 100 types of peripheral neuropathies in existence, each with its own characteristic set of symptoms, pattern of development, and prognosis, the symptoms can vary as much as the cause. Nevertheless, peripheral neuropathy is a symptom for many different patterns of disharmony within the body and is a condition that can be managed with regular acupuncture and Oriental medicine treatments.
Oriental medicine teaches that peripheral neuropathy is due to dampness moving to the limbs, where it obstructs the flow of Qi (energy) and blood within them. The treatment is twofold: to treat the underlying factor that is causing this dampness to accumulate, and to directly facilitate the circulation of Qi and blood in the affected area. By improving circulation, the nerve tissues of the affected area can be nourished to repair function and reduce pain.
Acupuncture and Oriental medicine aims to treat each individual uniquely, depending on what caused the neuropathy and how it manifests. In addition to seeking acupuncture therapy, there are a few things you can practice at home:
Adopt Healthy Habits
Healthy habits such as maintaining optimal weight, avoiding exposure to toxins, following a physician-supervised exercise program, eating a balanced diet, correcting vitamin deficiencies, and limiting or avoiding alcohol consumption can reduce the physical and emotional effects of peripheral neuropathy.
Boost Circulation with Massage
Massage can help boost circulation, which is generally poor and leaves these areas vulnerable to trauma. You can stimulate your feet, lower legs, hands and arms with gentle massage using light pressure.
Relax to Reduce External Triggers
Consider relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, self-hypnosis or biofeedback. These can help you learn to control the external factors that trigger pain.
Soak for Pain Relief
A warm foot bath with Epsom salt may also help relieve pain. If there is loss of sensation in the hands or feet, you should avoid extreme temperatures, as you may not feel the damaging effects.