This blog is a summary of a chapter written by Dagmar Ehling (Licensed acupuncturist and Doctor of Oriental Medicine) on the risk factors for diabetes and integrative approaches to prevent or manage it. This was published in 2017 in her book Anticipation and Medicine which makes the case for transition from episodic care and reliance on reactive treatment to anticipation-informed healthcare.

This fascinating chapter had a wealth of detail on the risks leading to diabetes and also on the pillars of Oriental Medicine that define treatment. If you’re interested in reading the chapter in its entirety, check it out here.

Obesity is defined by the National Institutes of Health as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher, which is equivalent to being overweight by 30 pounds. Diabetes is defined as having fasting blood glucose of higher than 126 mg/dL or a Hemoglobin A1c of 6.5% or higher.

Complications and risk factors for diabetes
  • Diabetic retinopathy leading to blindness, neuropathy, stroke, heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, skin infections and mood changes.
  • Neuro-degeneration known as type 3 diabetes may contribute to some forms of dementia.
  • Type 2 diabetes and high insulin levels appear to contribute to cancer and diminish cancer survival rates.
  • Conditions that accompany insulin resistance (IR), a precursor to type 2 diabetes include pain, joint degeneration, chronic muscle pain, digestive complaints, chronic inflammation, non-healing skin conditions, food sensitivities, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), premature andropause among others.
  • High blood sugar may be one of the contributing factors to the epidemic of dementia. Research has shown that an HbA1c level of greater than 5.9 represents an annual loss of brain mass of 0.5%.
  • Long-term blood control issues affect the adrenal glands and the hormones they secrete: aldosterone, cortisol and androgens. Symptoms of poor adrenal health include: afternoon fatigue, weight gain under stress, dizziness upon standing up, sleep issues, craving salt and headaches from stress and exertion.
  • Abnormal circadian rhythm of cortisol due to blood sugar irregularities can lead to shrinkage of the hippocampus, impairing both short-term and long-term memory.
  • Pro-inflammatory proteins are stimulated by chronic insomnia and stress. This inflammation also affects gut permeability which is manifested in food sensitivities, allergies and other digestive disorders. It’s also noted that patients who drink a lot of alcohol experience a greater probability of gut wall degradation.
  • Insulin resistance contributes to polycystic ovarian disease (PCOS) in females where in males IR can promote male andropause.
    • Women with PCOS can experience irregular periods, infertility, hair loss, hirsutism, weight gain, inflammation and are at higher risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and hypothyroidism.
    • In men, insulin resistance contributes to low libido, erectile dysfunction and adipose tissue around the waist. IR also promotes the conversion of testosterone into estrogen leading to growth of male breasts.
How Functional and Oriental Medicine can help

  • Functional Medicine is a systems biology-based approach that focuses on identifying and addressing the root cause of disease. Functional medicine looks at the individual’s genes, environment, and lifestyle, to find treatments that address the right root cause beyond symptom suppression.
    • The Cleveland Clinic has a Functional Medicine arm with the famous Dr. Mark Hyman as the director. His website has a wealth of info and he is a strong advocate of a Food is Medicine/Farmacy approach. 
    • Chris Kresser is another FM specialist and a proponent of the Paleo lifestyle.
  • Oriental Medicine’s goal is to balance the body by adjusting the energy of the organs and meridians thereby generating healthy functioning of the body. Much emphasis is placed on nourishing the body so the body can enhance and heal itself. OM includes treatment modalities such as Chinese herbal medicine, acupuncture, diet, massage forms and qi gong exercises.
  • There are a variety of styles of acupuncture (Chinese, Korean, Japanese, etc.) but the primary goal of all these styles is to achieve harmony and wellness by modulating the patient’s meridian system and energy flow. Disease manifests when meridian systems get stuck or energy stagnates. A skilled practitioner can determine blood sugar-related conditions and help patients using acupuncture, herbs and diet. Check out my blog on verifying the credentials of the practitioner in your state. 
  • Both Functional Medicine and Oriental Medicine view health as a network that is interconnected between organ, nervous and endocrine systems and working synergistically to achieve balance in body, mind and spirit. They both look at physiology and how to enhance the pathways that nature created. Emphasis is placed on nourishment, optimization and supplementation of what’s already there.  
  • Chinese Medicine uses the Yin/Yang (Yin = parasympathetic, quiet and sleep; Yang = sympathetic and flight/fright) and the Five Elements (fire, earth, wood, metal, water with each having a season, organ, flavor, emotion) and the human body meridian/channel systems. OM’s goal is to balance the body by adjusting the energy of organs and meridians. FM looks at the body balance from a western physiological point of view and both work well together.

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