Diabetes on the Rise In 1985, 30 million people were diagnosed worldwide. Just 10 years later, the numbers skyrocketed to 135 million. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that by 2025 there would be 300 million cases but according to the International Diabetes Foundation, as of December 2015, the diagnosed cases are over 415 million with no end in sight. Of all diagnosed diabetes cases, Type 2 accounted for over 90% which has a known correlation to diet, environmental factors and lifestyle. Pathophysiology Most of the food we eat is broken down into glucose which is the primary fuel used by the body to produce energy. After food is digested, glucose reaches the bloodstream where it is taken up by the cells via the hormone insulin. The pancreas releases insulin based on the amount of glucose in the bloodstream. So when dietary intake of refined carbohydrates is high, the amount of insulin secreted will be increased to deal with all the glucose. However, if the pancreas does not or cannot produce sufficient insulin or, the insulin does not work properly, glucose cannot be removed from the bloodstream and as a result, blood sugar levels remain elevated. If glucose is unable to reach the cells, the body loses its main source of fuel and is effectively unable to produce sufficient energy, even though there is plenty of glucose remaining in the bloodstream. Once the cells become resistant to the hormone insulin, the cascade of unwanted symptoms and physical ill-health continue to increase. Conventional Thinking Although lifestyle and dietary management is strongly advocated by conventional physicians as an initial treatment plan, the dietary advice is often poorly designed and if the patient does not improve fairly quickly, oral glucose-lowering drugs are provided. Of the five classes of diabetic drugs, none of them are without side effects making them an undesirable option. These drugs are only recommended when fasting glucose exceeds 140 mgdl and/or A1C exceed 8%. The addition of insulin to the mix is considered when glycemic control cannot be regulated with medication alone but this often brings the common side effects of weight gain and the potential for hypoglycemia.
Alternative Approaches Complementary and alternative therapies are gaining traction for the treatment of diabetes. Patients are taking matters into their own hands and seeking practitioners that understand the physiology and can offer alternative approaches to the traditionally-recommended pharmacologic agents. Many of the suggested dietary and lifestyle interventions are familiar for most patient and as such, are not met with skepticism or resistance. Yoga This traditional Indian exercise regimen has been studied for controlling both the symptoms and complications associated with Type 2 DM. Not surprisingly, multiple studies show a significant improvement for not only the prevention of diabetes but also for those with pre-existing complications. Massage Therapy Massage therapy has been recommended for diabetic patients for almost 100 years. It has been shown to help normalize blood glucose and significantly improve diabetic neuropathy in the lower extremities. Improving blood flow throughout the body can significantly improve outcomes in diabetic patients as well as provide relaxation and a decrease in the production of stress hormones.
Unlike in the United States, acupuncture is commonly used in China for treating diabetes. Acupuncture can act on the pancreas to enhance insulin synthesis, increase the number of receptors on target cells and accelerate the utilization of glucose resulting in lowering of blood sugar. It has also been shown to have a positive effect on obesity as well as supporting the health of the hypothalamus. It appears acupuncture exerts its effect on multiple systems throughout the body rather than any specific organ.