Could Acupuncture Help Treat Diabetes?

You try to get some exercise (most days), you eat right (no extra desserts for you!), and you take whatever medications your doctor recommends. Chances are that your doctor has never mentioned acupuncture as a way to improve your diabetes, though. So far, this ancient form of Chinese medicine is not exactly a standard treatment for the disease. But some experts say that it's an area that warrants further study.

"The results of using acupuncture are certainly not as earth-shattering as treating diabetes with Western medicine," says Spyros Mezitis, MD, of Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "But if someone has tried all the Western medicine techniques and the diabetes isn't improving, then acupuncture may be a worthwhile alternative to try."

Acupuncture experts believe that lowering the temperature in the back of the eyes, which is what happens when the needles are inserted in certain areas of the body, actually lowers the blood pressure. "And with a lower blood pressure, you are less likely to suffer damage to the eyes," Mezitis says. "There is also some lowering of the blood sugar."

Some research shows that when patients with diabetic retinopathy, a common complication of diabetes, have lower blood pressure, their chance of having the small blood vessels in the eyes burst is reduced, he says. "If there is less pressure on the blood vessels, they don't collapse and burst, which means less diabetic retinopathy," he says.

If a diabetic decides to go for acupuncture, "We look at each person individually and try to assess what their individual pattern is," says Joy Lindquist, wellness coordinator and licensed acupuncturist at Long Island College Hospital in New York City. Typically, a person with Type 2 diabetes presents with weight gain, excessive hunger and thirst, and frequent urination, she says. "In Chinese, this is an imbalance in the flow of qi, which is energy flow," Lindquist explains. "It produces heat which depletes the body's fluids, and that's where you get the excessive thirst."

An acupuncturist would assess a diabetic patient and tailor the treatment to that individual, Lindquist says.

It's not uncommon for people with Type 2 diabetes to receive acupuncture, she says. "And I see many people who are pre-diabetic," she adds. "Acupuncture can be effective because it balances the body, balances the qi, and the disease can go away."

Acupuncture treatments, Lindquist says, may be recommended on a weekly basis. Insurance doesn't typically cover acupuncture, she adds, and an acupuncture treatment could run anywhere from $80 to $125.

If you decide to go the acupuncture route, be sure to find a licensed acupuncturist with a lot of experience, Mezitis says. And bear in mind that acupuncture for diabetes is still considered an alternative treatment. "What's needed is a large study where you can compare Western medicine with acupuncture," Mezitis says. "

Yo, Lin. "Acupuncture and diabetes." November 2003. Acupuncture Today. />