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Acupuncture and Diabetes

Posted on May 9, 2019 | No Comments on Acupuncture and Diabetes

Acupuncture as an ancient form of Chinese remedy has long been known to help people achieve balance. It apparently improves blood circulation to achieve harmony to the different organs of the body resulting in good health. The procedure involves inserting extremely thin needles around 5 to 20 in a typical treatment into the different parts of the body. The different parts on the skin where the needles are inserted apparently reflect the different organs that need the “balance.” The technique is believed to increase the flow of energy – known as chi – to improve the balance of your body.

When I was still training for the field of endocrinology and diabetes around 1997 at the Mayo Clinic, the institution started to look at this practice to investigate whether there is really science behind this traditional complementary form of therapy. In the past few years, true enough, acupuncture has gained acceptance in some parts of the Western world. The research however so far on acupuncture has focused more on its effect on pain and studies have shown that it works and causes significant relief.

The needles apparently stimulate the nerves that boost the body’s release of natural painkillers and at the same time stimulate an increase in circulation. In fact acupuncture has been used as treatment for neuropathy associated with painful nerve damage due to diabetes, aches and pains associated with chronic fatigue syndrome, headaches due to migraine and postoperative pain.

Acupuncture is also believed to alter certain brain chemicals as well as the release and function of certain hormones. In China and certain parts of Korea, it is performed as a form of therapy for diabetes. It is believed to stabilize the circulating blood sugar level by inserting the needles into specific areas of the body that apparently stimulate the function of the pancreas. It is reported that some diabetic patients require less medications or less insulin after an acupuncture therapy. Unfortunately, no good studies are done so far to confirm these anecdotal reports as it is difficult to do a realistic stand-in for the procedure to really compare true effect compared to placebo. So whether acupuncture can help reverse diabetes and its complications or whether it can help control blood sugar, the answer is still NO until we have studies to support otherwise.

Acupuncture in general is a safe procedure. My personal recommendation to my diabetic patients is that acupuncture can be done safely as long as they use it in conjunction with the existing therapies that I give. They can continue to have their weekly acupuncture especially if they feel an improvement in their sense of well-being and a relief of aches and pains. Likewise, if the procedure is done by a licensed and professional acupuncturist, then side effects are minimal which can include: soreness of the needle site, infection if needles are reused, internal bleeding if needles are pushed too deep. However, it should be avoided among patients with pacemakers or pregnant women as it may stimulate premature labor.

Diabetes continues to afflict millions of our population. The goal of therapy is to reduce risk of complications like heart disease and stroke. Before experimenting on complementary forms of therapy like acupuncture, it is but wise to please talk to your doctor first.

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