Acupuncture for Diabetes

Acupuncture for Diabetes

Acupuncture is a legitimate treatment option that has been used for thousands of years, and in the case of Diabetes affecting an estimated 30.0 million people in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the world could use another treatment modality.

The two main types of Diabetes are type 1, those who don’t produce insulin, and type 2, those who don’t respond to insulin as well as they should. Having regular acupuncture treatments can benefit your patient in many ways whether they choose to have it as adjunctive treatment or alone.

What is Diabetes?

         Diabetes is a disease that happens in an individual when their blood sugar or glucose (the main source of energy from the food you eat) is too high.  Normally, insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, helps shuttle the glucose from the food we consume into cells and helps to produce energy.  In the case of diabetes, insulin is not produced in sufficient quantities, or sometimes not at all.  In turn, little to no glucose can reach the cells. There are two main types of diabetes, type 1 and type 2.

Type 1 and Type 2 can be classified with the following issues:

  • Type 1 – Individuals with this type do not produce insulin at all, and is also usually diagnosed in children and young adults. In Type 1 Diabetes, the body mistakes the person’s healthy cells for foreign invaders. Essentially, the immune system attacks the insulin-producing beta cells, and once eliminated, the body is no longer able to produce insulin. Research on why the body attacks its own cells is ongoing.

  • Type 2 – Individuals with Type 2 are insulin resistant.  Insulin will still be produced, but it cannot be put to use effectively.  Type 2 Diabetes is more common, and among the 30.3 million people with diabetes mentioned above, 90-95 percent have type 2.

Type 1 is far less common, and chances of type 2 increases with age. The percentage going from .18% of children under 18 years of age being diagnosed, to 25.2% in those 65 and older according to the CDC.

Symptoms of diabetes may include:

  • Frequent urination

  • Feeling extremely hungry

  • Feeling extremely tired

  • Blurry vision

  • Feeling extremely thirsty and/or drinking a lot

  • Cuts that don’t heal properly

The unique symptom of type 1 is that they can also experience mood swings and irritability as well as unintentionally lose weight. A unique symptom of type 2 diabetes is that they may experience numbness and tingling in their hands and feet. This being a reason why the acupuncture points typically used for diabetes address foot issues.

Does Acupuncture Work for Diabetes?

            Acupuncture for diabetes is commonly used in modern-day China, and has gained traction here in the United States as well. Acupuncture can elevate the mood and relieve stress in addition to addressing each specific condition in unique ways that conventional medicine may not be able to.

Acupuncture may help with diabetes related symptoms by …

  • Aiding in weight loss

  • Improving insulin resistance

  • Balancing out the hormones that affect the condition; for example – melatonin, insulin, epinephrine, glucocorticoid

  • Protecting the pancreas islet function (responsible for insulin production)

  • Improving blood sugar management

In addition, it is also known to treat the pain for diabetic neuropathy, a nerve condition that can happen when you have diabetes. The major benefit though, of course, is the reduction of pain. Acupuncture is known to release endorphins, hormones that release positive feelings in the body, and also block feelings of pain while alleviating them. One treatment form that of wrist-ankle treatment which involves deep needling of the ankle and wrist nerves.

Acupuncture Research for Diabetes

            There have also been a decent number of research conducted to study acupuncture for diabetes in recent years. The treatment modality of wrist-ankle deep needling is a well-known option, and there was a study done in 2014 on this particular treatment.  The 2014 study concluded that wrist-ankle treatment may be effective and safe for treating pain inclusive of diabetic peripheral neuritis. There were also studies done in 2016 and 2018, and there is also an ongoing study on prediabetes.

Acupuncture research on diabetes in 2016:

  • This study looked at whether acupuncture was a legitimate treatment for insulin resistance, and could be useful as a treatment in the future for insulin sensitivity.

  • The results of this study stated that low-frequency and low-intensity electroacupuncture may help in reducing insulin resistance and raise insulin sensitivity in a range of different conditions.

Acupuncture research on diabetes in 2018:

  • This study looked at how electroacupuncture stimulation affected or improved symptoms in rats with diabetes.
  • In the study, 12 rats were control fed and 60 rats who met the criteria were fed a high-fat, high-sugar diet for 8 weeks.

  • The results showed that on the 21st and 28th days the rats who received electroacupuncture had better insulin levels, better glucose tolerance, and decreased glucose levels.

  • The scientists also suggested that electroacupuncture could be used with other treatments or alone.

Acupuncture and ongoing research for prediabetes, beginning in 2017:

  • The scientists in the study are looking at how acupuncture may affect the biological mechanism of diabetes and prediabetes.

  • Several of the trials already conducted demonstrated considerable reductions in the risk of developing diabetes amongst those with prediabetes after drug-based or lifestyle interventions.

In the case of diabetes there is already several studies showing the benefits of acupuncture. In each of these studies it has shown to manage the individuals blood glucose levels which is the main concern of diabetic patients.  For some individuals acupuncture for diabetes may be helpful in managing diabetes related symptoms.

Acupuncture Points & Herbs for Diabetes

            There are obviously many acupuncture points that could be used in regards to treating diabetes, but there are some that show up time and time again when treating it.  Some are general points for diabetes no matter the type, and others treat specific TCM diagnoses for diabetes issues.

Acupuncture points for Diabetes:

  • ST36 – Leg Three Li – Zusanli – located 3 cun below ST35, one finger width lateral from the anterior border of the tibia. This point helps in the way of diabetes by tonifying wei qi and addressing lower leg pain that tends to come with diabetes.

  • T8 Huatuo – Sides of the Spine at T8 – Huatuojiaji – .5 cun lateral to the lower border of the spinous processes of T8. This point helps in the way of diabetes not only by helping with leg and foot problems, but also energizes the pancreas to help with blood sugar related conditions like diabetes.

  • ST44 – Inner Court – Neiting – located proximal to the web margin between the 2nd and 3rd metatarsal bones, in a depression distal and lateral to the 2nd metatarsodigital joint. This point helps with diabetes by addressing pain and swelling in the feet.

  • KD3 – Great Ravine – Taixi – located in the depression midway between the tip of the medial malleolus, and the attachment of the Achilles tendon. Again, like many of the others, this point addresses the issues with pain in the feet in diabetes

In addition to these powerful points, there are also some traditional Chinese herbs that are used in the treatment of diabetes to this day in many formulations.

Traditional herbs used for diabetes:

  • Cinnamon

  • Rehmannia

  • Astragalus

  • Ginseng

  • Water plantain

  • Chinese yam

Acupuncture providers who are certified to provide herbs and herbal formulas can provide helpful formulations to be used to help diabetes.  There may be anywhere from 5-12 herbs in a formula, it is always truly individualized depending on the patient’s needs.

Herbal formulas for diabetes:

  • Da Ji – Japanese Thistle – influences the liver and spleen channels with a sweet and cool taste. For diabetes it is helpful for pancreatic beta cells which is what is affected in the production (or lack thereof) of insulin. Used for type 1 and type 2.

  • Ba Qia – Chinaroot Greenbier Rhizome – influences the liver and kidney spleen and has a sweet, sour, neutral, and warm taste. Used for diabetes via the liver and kidney systems. This is more useful with type 2 diabetes.

Just like with acupuncture points, there are infinite amounts of possible herbal formulations possible in diabetes treatment.  Before taking any herb or herbal formula, your acupuncturist will inquire about medications or supplements you may be taking.  This information is crucial to know before any herbs or formulas are consumed.

Acupuncture and Diabetes

            In the case of diabetes, scientists and researchers aren’t entirely sure why in type 1 diabetes, the immune system attacks its own cells.  The same goes for type 2 diabetes, why some people become insulin resistant and others don’t. 

While further research is warranted on the beneficial impact of acupuncture for diabetes, thus far we have seen some promising results, and acupuncture is worth exploring for individuals with this condition.


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