Dr. Mindy Boxer – Managing Diabetes with Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine

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It is estimated that 25.8 million men, women and children in the United States have diabetes, a disease in which the body does not produce or properly use insulin. Insulin is a hormone that is needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy needed for daily life. The cause of diabetes continues to be a mystery, although both genetics and environmental factors such as obesity and lack of exercise appear to play roles.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 4 people remain unaware that they live with diabetes. Sometimes the body will give warning signs that help your physician or acupuncture and Oriental medicine practitioner make an early diagnosis. It is important to get a diagnosis as soon as you suspect that diabetes may be a problem for you, as untreated diabetes affects the whole body and can lead to other medical problems, including heart disease, kidney failure, blindness, peripheral neuropathy, digestive disorders and periodontal disease.

In order to manage this condition, it is essential for people with diabetes to make healthy lifestyle choices in diet, exercise and other health habits. Another important factor when treating diabetes is creating a support team of health care professionals, including a licensed acupuncturist.

Diabetes According to Oriental Medicine

Acupuncture and Oriental medicine have been used to treat diabetes for over 2000 years. According to Oriental medicine, diabetes is caused by an imbalance of the cyclical flow of Qi within the meridians and organ systems. This particular imbalance produces heat that depletes the body’s fluids and Qi, causing symptoms such as extreme fatigue, lethargy, unexplained weight loss, excessive thirst, excessive urination, excessive eating, slow healing of cuts and wounds, infections, irritability, tingling or numbness in the extremities, and blurry vision.

Offering a holistic approach that is beneficial in the treatment of diabetes, acupuncture and Oriental medicine provides a treatment plan specifically tailored to the needs of each individual to provide relief of the symptoms associated with diabetes. Acupuncture and Oriental medicine can assist the body by helping it return to its normal healthy functioning state.

In addition to acupuncture, a variety of techniques may be used during treatment, including bodywork, lifestyle/dietary recommendations, energetic exercises and herbal medicine. The treatment for diabetes will focus on regulating the circulation of blood and Qi and balancing the organ systems to improve pancreatic function and address internal heat and the depletion of fluids.

Peripheral neuropathy describes damage to the peripheral nervous system, which transmits information from the brain and spinal cord to every other part of the body. Peripheral means ‘situated on the edge.’ Neuropathy breaks down into two separate words, both of which originate from the Greek language. Neuro means ‘relating to nerves or the nervous system,’ and pathy means ‘disease condition’ or ‘suffering.’ Nerves serve as pathways of communication between the brain and the rest of the body. When something interrupts this process, signs of peripheral neuropathy may occur.

Common signs of peripheral neuropathy include tingling, numbness, loss of sensation, muscle weakness and pain. For some people, it is experienced as the uncomfortable sensation of “pins and needles”, or burning pain (especially at night) of their hands or feet. Others may suffer even more extreme symptoms such as muscle wasting, paralysis, or organ or gland dysfunction.

In most cases, peripheral neuropathy is secondary to another condition. There are many factors that can bring about peripheral neuropathy including diabetes, malnutrition, drugs, viral and bacterial infections, alcoholism and poison exposure. Other causes of peripheral neuropathy include compression or entrapment (such as carpal tunnel syndrome), direct physical injury to a nerve, fractures or dislocated bones, penetrated injuries, and pressure involving superficial nerves that can result from prolonged use of crutches, staying in the same position too long, tumor, intraneural hemorrhage, exposure to cold, radiation or atherosclerosis.

With more than 100 types of peripheral neuropathies in existence, each with its own characteristic set of symptoms, pattern of development, and prognosis, the symptoms can vary as much as the cause. Nevertheless, peripheral neuropathy is a symptom for many different patterns of disharmony within the body and is a condition that can be managed with regular acupuncture and Oriental medicine treatments.

Oriental medicine teaches that peripheral neuropathy is due to dampness moving to the limbs, where it obstructs the flow of Qi (energy) and blood within them. The treatment is twofold: to treat the underlying factor that is causing this dampness to accumulate, and to directly facilitate the circulation of Qi and blood in the affected area. By improving circulation, the nerve tissues of the affected area can be nourished to repair function and reduce pain.

Acupuncture and Oriental medicine aims to treat each individual uniquely, depending on what caused the neuropathy and how it manifests. In addition to seeking acupuncture therapy, there are a few things you can practice at home:

Adopt Healthy Habits
Healthy habits such as maintaining optimal weight, avoiding exposure to toxins, following a physician-supervised exercise program, eating a balanced diet, correcting vitamin deficiencies, and limiting or avoiding alcohol consumption can reduce the physical and emotional effects of peripheral neuropathy.

Boost Circulation with Massage
Massage can help boost circulation, which is generally poor and leaves these areas vulnerable to trauma. You can stimulate your feet, lower legs, hands and arms with gentle massage using light pressure.

Relax to Reduce External Triggers
Consider relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, self-hypnosis or biofeedback. These can help you learn to control the external factors that trigger pain.

Soak for Pain Relief
A warm foot bath with Epsom salt may also help relieve pain. If there is loss of sensation in the hands or feet, you should avoid extreme temperatures, as you may not feel the damaging effects.

Swap out processed foods, all forms of Sugar ~ particularly Fructose ~ as well as all grains, for whole, fresh food. A primary reason for the failure of conventional Diabetes treatment over the last 50 years has to do with seriously flawed dietary recommendations. Fructose, Grains, and other Sugar forming starchy carbohydrates are largely responsible for your body’s adverse Insulin reactions, and all sugars and grains—even “healthful” grains such as whole, organic ones ~ need to be drastically reduced.

If you’re Insulin/Leptin resistant, have Diabetes, High Blood Pressure, Heart Disease, or are overweight, you’d be wise to limit your total fructose intake to 15 grams per day until your Insulin/Leptin resistance has resolved. This includes about 80 percent of Americans. For all others, I recommend limiting your daily fructose consumption to 25 grams or less, to maintain optimal health.

The easiest way to accomplish this is by swapping processed foods for whole, ideally organic foods. This means cooking from scratch with fresh ingredients. Processed foods are the main source of all the primary culprits, including high fructose corn syrup and other sugars, processed grains, trans fats, artificial sweeteners, and other synthetic additives that may aggravate metabolic dysfunction.

Besides fructose, Trans Fat (NOT saturated fat) increases your risk for Diabetes by interfering with your insulin receptors. Healthy saturated fats do not do this. Since you’re cutting out a lot of energy (carbs) from your diet when you reduce sugars and grains, you need to replace them with something. The ideal replacement is a combination of:

* Low-to-moderate amount of high quality Protein. Substantial amounts of protein can be found in meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, legumes, and nuts. When selecting animal based protein, be sure to opt for organically raised, grass-fed or pastured meats, eggs, and dairy, to avoid potential health complications caused by genetically engineered animal feed and pesticides.

Most Americans eat far too much protein, so be mindful of the amount! I believe it is the rare person who really needs more than one-half gram of protein per pound of lean body mass. Those that are aggressively exercising or competing and pregnant women should have about 25 percent more, but most people rarely need more than 40-70 grams of protein a day.

To determine your lean body mass, find out your percent body fat and subtract from 100. This means that if you have 20 percent body fat, you have 80 percent lean body mass. Just multiply that by your current weight to get your lean body mass in pounds or kilos. To determine whether you’re getting too much protein, simply calculate your lean body mass as described above, then write down everything you’re eating for a few days, and calculate the amount of daily protein from all sources.

Again, you’re aiming for one-half gram of protein per pound of lean body mass, which would place most people in the range of 40 to 70 grams of protein per day. If you’re currently averaging a lot more than that, adjust downward accordingly…..simply Google the food you want to know and you will quickly find the grams of protein in the food.

As much high quality healthy Fat as you want (saturated and monounsaturated). For optimal health, most people need upwards of 50-85 percent of their daily calories in the form of healthy fats. Good sources include Coconut and Coconut Oil, Avocados, Raw Butter, Nuts, and animal fats. (Remember, fat is high in calories while being small in terms of volume. So when you look at your plate, the largest portion would be vegetables.)

* As many Non-Starchy Vegetables as you want.

Exercise regularly and intensely. Studies have shown that exercise, even without weight loss, increases insulin sensitivity. High Intensity Interval Training has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity by as much as 24 percent in just four weeks.

* Improve your Omega 3 to Omega 6 ratio. Today’s Western diet has far too many processed and damaged Omega-6 fats, and is far too little Omega-3 fats. The main sources of omega-6 fats are corn, soy, canola, safflower, peanut, and sunflower oil (the first two of which are typically genetically engineered as well, which further complicates matters). Our bodies evolved for an optimal 1:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3. However, our ratio has deteriorated to between 20:1 and 50:1 in favor of omega-6. This lopsided ratio has seriously adverse health consequences.

To remedy this, reduce your consumption of vegetable oils (this means not cooking with them, and avoiding processed foods), and increase your intake of animal-based omega-3, such as Krill Oil. Vegetable-based Omega-3 is also found in Flaxseed Oil and Walnut Oil, and it’s good to include these in your diet as well. Just know they cannot take the place of animal-based omega-3s.

* Maintain optimal Vitamin D levels year round. New evidence strongly supports the notion that vitamin D is highly beneficial not only for type 1 Diabetes as mentioned before, but also in type 2 Diabetes. The ideal way to optimize your Vitamin D level is by getting regular sun exposure, or by using a safe tanning bed. As a last resort, consider oral supplementation with regular Vitamin D monitoring, to confirm that you are taking enough Vitamin D to get your blood levels into the therapeutic range of 50-70 ng/ml. Also please note that if you take supplemental vitamin D, you create an increased demand for Vitamin K2.

* Get adequate high quality SLEEP every night. Insufficient sleep appears to raise stress and Blood Sugar, encouraging Insulin and Leptin resistance and weight gain. In one 10-year long study of 70,000 Diabetes-free women, researchers found that women who slept less than five hours or more than nine hours each night were 34 percent more likely to develop Diabetes symptoms than women who slept seven to eight hours each night.

* Maintain a healthy body weight. If you incorporate the diet and lifestyle changes suggested above you will greatly improve your Insulin and Leptin sensitivity, and a healthy body weight will follow in time. Determining your ideal body weight depends on a variety of factors, including frame size, age, general activity level, and genetics. As a general guideline, you might find a hip-to-waist size index chart helpful. This is far better than BMI for evaluating whether or not you may have a weight problem, as BMI fails to factor in both how muscular you are, and your intra-abdominal fat mass (the dangerous visceral fat that accumulates around your inner organs), which is a potent indicator of leptin sensitivity and associated health problems.

Optimize your Gut Health. Your gut is a living ecosystem, full of both good bacteria and bad. Multiple studies have shown that obese people have different intestinal bacteria than lean people. The more good bacteria you have, the stronger your immune system will be and the better your body will function overall. Fortunately, optimizing your gut flora is relatively easy. You can reseed your body with good bacteria by regularly eating fermented foods (like Natto, Miso, and cultured vegetables).

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