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Can Acupuncture Help With Diabetes?

Did you know that acupuncture can be a powerful ally for people who have various types of Diabetes?

It’s true…let me explain how an acupuncturist views the common condition.

Although Western and Traditional Chinese Medicine use different methods to treat common diseases, both approaches also agree on many things. Western medicine considers diabetes melletis as a disease of blood sugar metabolism.

Diabetes is caused by either or a failure of the cell’s ability to accept insulin and dump toxins into the blood or the pancreas is not able to produce adequate insulin to lower blood glucose.

According to TCM, Xiao Ke or “wasting and thirsting disease” is divided by the patient’s symptoms into upper jiao, middle jiao and lower jiao. We’ll discuss more about this further in the article.

Diabetes, according to Western Medicine is divided into three general categories (ADA, 2018):

  1. Type 1—pancreatic beta cell autoimmune destruction is usually diagnosed in children.
  2. Type 2, adult onset functioning, yet progressive beta cell destruction autoimmune markers along with insulin resistance.
  3. Gestational diabetes is hyperglycemia during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes usually resolves itself following delivery of the baby.

According to TCM, Xiao Ke or “wasting and thirsting disease” is divided by the patient’s symptoms and also divided into 3 general categories:

  1. Upper Jiao – The upper jiao is when the lung isn’t able to descend moisture to the rest of the body.
  2. Middle Jiao – The middle jiao is “spleen not able to transform and transport” to the rest of the body.
  3. Lower Jiao – Stomach may also have excess fire or deficiency thus unable to digest food. Liver yin deficiency, creating fire may also be a culprit. Lower jiao involves kidney yin. Yin is the body’s ability to cool, ground, it’s substance and associated with water. When yin is deficient, it creates heat in the body, and consumes the body’s fluids. Diabetes Meletus is excessive glucose, heat, inability to ground in TCM.

TCM physicians use the patient’s case history, looking at the patient’s tongue and feeling the patient’s “pulses”. “Reading” the pulse, isn’t counting beats. The pulse shows nine organ and channel conditions– the “climate” of the body. The practitioner can feel such as heat, cold, damp, excess, deficiency and phlegm which indicate how to best treat the patient. TCM therapy has seven aspects. Treatment is specifically individualized to harmonize climate and imbalance.”


Both Western and Eastern focus on diet, weight loss, and exercise to treat diabetes. Both use medications, nutritional supplements or herbs to reduce blood sugar and improve cellular respiration.


Western medicine uses a “one size fits all” approach. Everyone with a diagnosis of adult onset diabetes type 2 starts off with metformin. The A1C is measured after three months, then the medication is adjusted, or other medications are added. If the A1C isn’t within normal limits, insulin may be added. According to Western medicine, the pancreas is diseased.

TCM uses differential diagnosis developed over 3,000 years. Urinating sugar illness is called Tang Niao Bin. Diabetes is also called “Wasting and Thirsting” disease, “Xiao Ke”. Diabetes Mellitus is caused by heat, dampness and phlegm. An acupuncturist will ask to see your tongue, feel the pulses in three positions and three levels. The TCM physician considers a detailed patient history, including past illness, emotional trauma and injuries important to determine the best treatment. Treatment is specific to each person. Diabetes Mellitus can be caused by disharmony in the upper body, middle or lower body. Diabetes isn’t a “one size fits all”, but a symptom of a deeper problem (Guo, 2014).

Though there are many TCM patterns for this condition , which pattern below best describes your symptoms?

Upper Body:

1. Lung Heat Injuring Fluids. This can be caused by childhood exposure to secondhand smoke, recurrent lung infections caused by viral or bacterial pathogens, often the pathogen has not been completely eliminated. Cigarette smoking dries the lung mucosa, destroying delicate cilia, depositing carbon into lung tissue.
The patient experiences asthma, excessive thirst, dry mouth and tongue, hacking dry cough, sometimes producing a sticky phlegm. Treatment: cool lung, descend lung qi. One formula is Bai Hu Ren Shen Tang (White tiger decoction). Diet would include pears, rice, mei men dong, sha shen tea, asparagus, mulberry leaf, marshmallow root tea. Formulas may include Mai Wei Di Huang Wan and Sha Shen Mai Men Dong Tang.

Middle Body:

2. Excess Stomach Heat. Changes in diet and lifestyle usually clear this up. Excessive consumption of alcohol, too much hot and spicy food, over-eating, too much red meat, too much highly processed food, dairy, and food allergens. The person feels famished, heartburn after eating or at night, experiences constipation and dry stools, and elevated blood sugar. Pumpkin has been shown to lower blood glucose, avocados, one half gallon of water per day, sha shen tea, and lots of green vegetables. Beef is neutral in temperature and consumed in moderation, thus reducing heat and nourishes yin. Formulas prescribed may include Bai Hu Jia Ren Shen Tang, Shen Ling Bai Zhu San, Zeng Ye Tang.

3. Liver qi deficiency (Hazlehurst, 2016) : Blood sugar usually is higher with stress. Some of the other symptoms include flank and chest discomfort, hypertension, red eyes, visual disturbances, short temper, irritability, depression, migraines, heartburn. When liver qi is not flowing, the liver qi energy tends to rise. Exclude fried, dairy, alcohol, sodas. Diet includes green leafy vegetables, olive oil and lemon juice, lemon water, dandelion, chlorella, and beets. Formulas used to treat this pattern include Xiao Yao San, Yi Guan Jian and Chai Hu Shu Gan Tang (Guo, 2014).

Lower Body

4. Kidney Yin Deficiency (Zheng, 2011): Yin is the body’s ability to “cool” itself, it is substance, anchoring and grounding. Kidney energy is called Dan Tian “life force energy”. If the “Dan Tian fire” is too high, fluids are evaporated, blood thickens, and energy raises. The patient experienced low back achy pain, knee pain, unmeasurable low grade feverish feeling in the afternoon. Often patients complain of night time urinary frequency, elevated blood pressure, hearing difficulty, and elevated glucose.

Treatment: Diet with fish, sea vegetables, dark green vegetables, pork, dark beans, bone broth, miso soup, vitamins and minerals, and one half gallon of water per day is commonly prescribed. Herbal treatment includes Liu Di Huang Wan, Da Bu Yin Wan, and Zuo Gui Wan.

TCM offers many treatment options to control diabetes. This article details a few suggestions. Please contact your primary care physician or us at (218) 724-3400 to find what is best for you.

  1. American Diabetes Association. (2018). Classification and Diagnosis of Diabetes: Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes-2018. Diabetes care, 41(Suppl 1), S13–S27.
  2. Gökhan, S. Hotamışlıgil et al. (April 24, 2019). “The short-chain fatty acid propionate increases glucagon and FABP4 production, impairing insulin action in mice and humans,” Science Translational Medicine, April 24, 2019, DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aav012
  3. Hazlehurst, J. M., Woods, C., Marjot, T., Cobbold, J. F., & Tomlinson, J. W. (2016). Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and diabetes. Metabolism: clinical and experimental, 65(8), 1096–1108.
  4. Guo, J., Chen, H., Song, J., Wang, J., Zhao, L., and Tong X. (July 14, 2014). Syndrome Differentiation of Diabetes by the Traditional Chinese Medicine according to Evidence-Based Medicine and Expert Consensus Opinion. Article ID 492193.
  5. Zheng, A.S.D. (2011). Essentials of Chinese Medicine. Internal Medicine 2nd Edition. Pgs 281-289. Bridge Publishing Group. ISBN: 978-0-9728439-8-0.
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