Proper diabetes management is immensely important for people with diabetes. Without it, diabetes can lead to other diseases and complications of the heart, kidney, eyes, and other parts of the body.
In 2021, over 4.4 million Malaysians have diabetes. This number is projected to reach 6.5 million by 2045. Even more concerning, many Malaysians currently living with diabetes are not officially diagnosed with it or have the means to manage the disease well.
Diabetes management in Western medicine primarily focuses on regulating blood glucose levels using different methods.
Glucose-regulating drugs and insulin
Your physician will prescribe glucose-lowering drugs that help keep your blood sugar levels in check to avoid hyper- or hypoglycaemia. Some of these drugs also work to improve insulin release and function. In addition, you may also take insulin directly into your system, usually administered through the skin using insulin syringes, pens, or pumps.
Closely and accurately monitoring blood sugar levels
One of the most convenient medical inventions in diabetes management is the blood glucose monitor. This device gives an immediate reading of your blood sugar levels, enabling you to make informed decisions about your diet, activity, and medication.
Regular check-ups and monitoring by a professional healthcare team
It is critical to work with a comprehensive team of healthcare professionals and specialists to get your diabetes under control. Regular check-ups also ensure that you can address complications before they progress too far.
The Eastern Way of Managing Diabetes
While Western medicine for diabetes focuses on lowering and regulating blood sugar levels, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) consists of natural remedies that correspond to different symptoms based on these three conditions:
Symptoms: excessive thirst, with accompanying symptoms such as a dry mouth, irritability, a red tongue with a thin yellow coating, and rapid pulse.
Diagnosis: lung heat with depletion of jin syndrome – a rise in internal heat, primarily in the lungs, due to a deficiency in jin (body fluids)
Treatment: Herbal concoction made with Coptis Chinesis (Huang Lian), Ophiopogon Japonicas (Mai Dong), and Radix Rehmannia (Sheng Di Huang)
Symptoms: excessive hunger, bad breath, weight loss, frequent oral ulcers, excessive thirst and urine output, constipation with dry stools, a red tongue with yellow coating, and a strong rapid pulse.
Diagnosis: stomach fire syndrome
Treatment: Jade Maiden Decoction made with Gypsum Fibrosum (Shi Gao), Rhizoma Anemarrhenae (Zhi Mu), and Gardenia Jasminoides (Zhi Zi)
Symptoms: excessive turbid urination, often accompanied by lower lumbar pain and weakness in the knees, fatigue, dizziness, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), dry lips, dry and itchy skin, a red tongue with little or no coating, and a thin and rapid pulse.
Diagnosis: yin (passive energy) deficiency in the kidney
Treatment: Six-flavour Rehmannia Pills made with Schisandra (Wu Wei Zi), Chinese Yam (Shan Yao), and Goji berries (Gou Qi Zi).
“From a TCM perspective, diabetes is mainly caused by congenital deficiency, eating disorder, emotional instability, overwork or exogenous heat, which can cause the body fluid to turn heaty,” says TCM Physician Ignatius Ooi. “For instance, excessive dryness-heat in the interior (yin deficiency and dry heat) can result in ‘wasting and thirsting syndrome’ (diabetes). Therefore, Chinese medicine believes that syndrome differentiation is necessary to cure diabetes thirst. This points to providing the most suitable formula according to the patient’s syndrome, physique, tongue condition and pulse condition.”
According to Physician Ooi, several herbs have been scientifically proven to improve blood sugar control:
- Lingzhi (Ganoderma Lucidum): studies have found that this herb helps with increasing the body’s insulin level and reducing blood sugar level.
- Chinese yam: contains minerals such as magnesium and zinc, which are essential for insulin secretion.
- Salvia miltiorrhiza: according to research, this ingredient is effective in treating diabetes and preventing complications
- Astragalus: helps with increasing insulin sensitivity and lowering blood sugar.
- Ginseng: has a therapeutic effect on early mild diabetes
- Rehmannia glutinosa: nourishes yin and clears away heat; studies show that this herb can treat diabetes-induced hyperlipidaemia and hypertension.
“Always consult a qualified Chinese medicine practitioner before consuming any herbs,” he advises.
Combination of Western Medicine and TCM to Manage Diabetes
Numerous scientific studies continue to present evidence that a combination of Western medicine and TCM yields better results in diabetes management than using one alone.
Besides medication, diabetes management should also include better dietary choices and lifestyle changes. A healthy diet, eliminating too and alcohol, engaging in regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and lowering stress levels have all been shown to reduce diabetes comorbidities such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, obesity, and kidney disease.
“Pay attention to your calorie intake. Have small and frequent meals and go on a high-fibre diet. Avoid sugary foods and reduce alcohol consumption,” Physician Ooi says.
Physical inactivity is a known risk factor for diabetes, so it’s good to start exercising for at least 30 minutes a day to maintain a healthy weight.
“Emotional stability is also important as chronic negative emotions can cause visceral dysfunction, endocrine disorders and low immunity. If the condition is prolonged, the secretion of glucagon will increase, resulting in an increase in blood sugar levels,” Physician Ooi adds. “Therefore, find ways to manage stress and your emotional issues.”
In addition, yoga and Qigong can help with stress and improve sleep. You can also take essence of chicken to enhance your health and well-being.
For people living with diabetes, effective diabetes management ensures the condition doesn’t progress into multiple life-threatening conditions. As always, consult a healthcare professional before starting any medical regimen.
This is an adaptation of an article, “An Eastern Approach to Diabetes”, which first appeared on Eu Yan Sang website.
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