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Integrative Medicine For Diabetes Mellitus

Posted Feb 28 2010 7:13am

Diabetes mellitus (DM) refers to a group of common metabolic disorders related to hyperglycemia. While there are many different types of DM, DM is increasing in incidence worldwide and predisposes one to numerous other medical conditions including cardiovascular, renal disease, lower extremity amputations and adult blindness.

The two classes of DM are Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.  DM Type 1 is characterized by total or near-total insulin deficiency and Type 2 DM are a heterogeneous group of disorders that all have defining features based on:

• degree of insulin resistance
• impaired insulin secretion
• increased production of glucose

The etiology of DM Type2 are numerous and include genetic defects of insulin or beta cell function, exocrine pancreatic diseases, endocrine disorders such as hyperthyroidism and Cushing’s syndrome, drug induced DM, pregnancy induced DM, and increased prevalence of obesity and reduced activity levels worldwide.  In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that between 1980-2005, the number of Americans with DM increased from 5.6 to 15.8 million and that people aged 65 years or older accounted for approximately 38% of that total. 

Acupuncture for Diabetic Neuropathy

There are a number of diabetic neuropathies and a few acupuncture studies that are beginning to look at how acupuncture may provide symptom relief for the DM patient with neuropathy.
Types of diabetic neuropathies

Generalized neuropathy
• hyperglycaemic neuropathy
• symmetric distal polyneuropathy with/without autonomic neuropathy
• acute painful sensory neuropathy variants

Focal and multifocal neuropathy
• cranial neuropathies
• focal limb neuropathies
• thoracolumbar radiculoneuropathy
• lumbosacral radiculoplexus neuropathy (Bruns-Garland syndrome)

In general, the most common symptoms reported for leg and foot neuropathy include complaints “of tingling, buzzing or prickling sensations affecting the feet, which may also feel tight or hot or cold. The symptoms are often, but not exclusively, symmetric in distribution. The patient may complain of numbness or “as if my feet are wrapped up in cotton wool.” 15

A recent pilot study in humans tested TCM and Japanese style acupuncture for the treatment of painful diabetic neuropathy. Out of seven patients enrolled, three received Traditional Chinese acupuncture (TCA) while four received Japanese-style acupuncture (JA).  Of six evaluable subjects, JA subjects noted a greater decrease in pain, but the decrease was less durable than the TCA subjects.  The TCA subjects also noted greater sensation improvement in cooling and warming.

In conclusion, there is considerable research being done on…acupuncture for symptom management in the patient with DM.  The outcomes of  these studies will help to inform how herbs, lifestyle interventions and acupucnture are imperative in the comprehensive approach to diabetes care.

About the author: Jillian Capodice is the Director of Acupuncture and Integrative Service at the Center for Holistic Urology, Department of Urology, Columbia University Medical Center, New York, New York. She is an active lecturer and has extensive publications on myriad topics such as acupuncture, complementary and alternative medicine and integrative urology.

If you suffer from diabetes call our Minneapolis Acupuncture Clinic at 612-866-4000 for relief from your symptoms and to improve the quality of your life. Or visit us at

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