Aaron Sta Maria
Written by Aaron Sta Maria

Reviewed by Dr Jessica Gunawan

Diabetes Mellitus and Blood Sugar: Understanding the Types and Symptoms

Diabetes mellitus can be broken down into different types. Physical effects of the disease can be managed with Western and traditional treatments.

Woman using a finger-prick test to measure her blood sugar levels

Unknown to some, diabetes can be categorised as type 1 or type 2, or gestational diabetes mellitus. The National Health and Morbidity Survey 2019 states that 1 in 5 Malaysians aged 18 years and above have been diagnosed with the disease. That equates to a whopping 3.8 million adults with diabetes! 

Read on to understand the relationship between the disease and blood sugar, how to differentiate between the different types of diabetes and ways to manage symptoms effectively. 

The Impact of Diabetes on a Person’s Physical Well-Being 

When you eat, your body breaks down digestible foods into sugar, which enters the blood. Insulin aids in transporting sugar from the blood into the cells. Sugar can be used as energy immediately or stored for later use. Diabetes directly affects insulin, impairing its ability and production by the pancreas. It also elevates blood sugar levels, causing the following symptoms: 

  • Fatigue 
  • Dry skin 
  • Blurry vision 
  • Abnormal weight loss 
  • Frequent urination 
  • Frequent hunger and thirst 
  • Slow healing of sores 
  • Higher rate of infections 
  • Numbness or tingling sensation in the hands or feet 

Woman looking at a pair glasses that she’s holding in her right hand while covering one eye with her left
Blurry vision is one of the symptoms of diabetes mellitus.

Causes of Diabetes

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) states that diabetes falls under the xiao ke syndrome (消渴), which stems from a Yin (passive energy) Deficiency or dry Heat in the body. Subsequently, Yin and Yang Deficiencies can arise in the Spleen and Kidney. Over time, it’ll provoke Qi and Blood Stagnation that exacerbates to become Blood Stasis. 

Type 1 diabetes 

An autoimmune disease, type 1 diabetes destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. The cause and steps to prevent the disease’s onset are, to date, still unknown.

Type 2 diabetes 

The development of type 2 diabetes relates directly to the ineffective use of insulin by the body and accounts for 95% of diabetes cases worldwide. The most common reasons behind its onset are a sedentary lifestyle and excessive weight gain.

Previously, it was only seen in adults but has become increasingly prevalent among children in recent years.

Gestational diabetes 

Hyperglycaemia – blood sugar levels that are above normal – can make women susceptible to health complications during pregnancy and childbirth. It may happen during any pregnancy, but mostly develops between the second or third trimester and usually disappears after giving birth.

Complications of Diabetes

Higher-than-usual blood sugar levels can lead to various health complications. It increases the risk of heart disease if it damages blood vessels and the nerves that regulate heart rate. Damage to cells and blood vessels in the kidney can bring about poor organ function or organ failure.

Fasting blood sugar higher than 7mmol/L after eight hours of fasting, or blood sugar greater than 11.0mmol/L two hours after drinking 75gm of glucose water during an oral glucose tolerance test, indicates that you have diabetes. If your fasting blood sugar is between 5.6mmol/L and 6.9mmol/L, you would be considered prediabetic. 

Kidney failure is another complication of diabetes. According to the Malaysian National Kidney Foundation, 57% of kidney failures in the country are due to the condition.

Diabetic neuropathy can also ensue and trigger distinct sets of symptoms, depending on the type of neuropathy occurring. The few different types are: 

  • Autonomic neuropathy: Damages the nerves that connect to the internal organs 
  • Peripheral neuropathy: Damages nerves in the feet and leg and sometimes the hands and arms. Symptoms are often worse at night such as numbness and a tingling or burning feeling. 
  • Proximal neuropathy: Damages nerves in the hips, buttocks or thighs. It can also affect the abdominal and chest area. 
  • Focal neuropathies: Damages single, specific nerves in the face, hand, torso or leg. Diabetics need to ensure proper care of their feet and focus on observing any occurrences of wounds and ulcers, preventing injuries and seeking early medical care if an injury occurs. This is to avoid amputation in severe cases.
Diabetic patients should focus on foot care to avoid diabetic foot issues.
Diabetic patients should focus on foot care to avoid diabetic foot issues.

A Switch in Routine Makes a World of Difference 

Lifestyle modifications can ease the symptoms of diabetes and reduce the risk of health complications. Diet control, specifically, plays an integral role. 

For instance, people with diabetes should minimise sugar intake and eat less refined carbohydrates or oily, processed and fatty foods. Likewise, they should cut their consumption of caffeinated and alcoholic beverages.

Instead, they should eat more whole foods, such as lean meat, fish, eggs, fruits, and vegetables. Separately, it’s encouraged for them to exercise a minimum of 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Together, they can keep their weight and blood sugar within a healthy range. 

An Alternative Approach to Better Blood Sugar Control 

The combination of herbals and decoctions, too, can achieve the same effect. If a Yin Deficiency and Dry Heat are present in a person’s body, a licensed TCM practitioner may prescribe Anemarrhena (zhi mu, 知母) and Rehmannia (sheng di huang, 生地黄) to clear Heat and nourish yin. It can be used alongside other ingredients to alleviate Blood Stasis, invigorate the Spleen, and enhance Kidney yin and yang.

Activating points like tai xi and di ji can calm diabetes symptoms.

Acupuncture treatment can lower fasting and post-prandial – the duration after a meal – blood sugar, boost insulin production and ease insulin resistance. The selection of acupressure points will also aim to subdue neuropathy-associated pain and symptoms like blurry vision and a tingling sensation in the fingers and toes. However, if a person doesn’t have access to treatment by an acupuncturist, they can self-stimulate the di ji (SP8, 地机) and tai xi (KD3, 太溪) points to purge infection or boost immunity.

A multi-treatment regimen is required to address symptoms during the different stages of diabetes mellitus. If a person is consistent and maintains a healthy lifestyle, they’ll be able to keep them under control. Seeking consultation with clinical and licensed TCM practitioners will also allow people with diabetes to adhere to a suitable treatment plan.

This is an adaptation of an article, “What is diabetes?”, which first appeared on Health123’s website.   

References

  1. National Institutes of Health (NIH) Ministry of Health Malaysia. 2019. National Health and Morbidity Survey 2019. [online] [Accessed 22 June 2022] 
  2. American Diabetes Association. Blood Sugar and Insulin at Work. [online] [Accessed 22 June 2022]
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diabetes Symptoms. [online] [Accessed 22 June 2022]
  4. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Diabetic Neuropathy. [online] [Accessed 22 June 2022]
  5. World Health Organization. 2021. Diabetes. [online] [Accessed 22 June 2022]

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