Diabetes is defined as a disease characterized by an increased level of glucose in blood. It stems from the fact that the body is unable to transport glucose to the inside of cells. Thus, the level of glucose in the blood is too high, whilst cells starve to death. There are two types of diabetes:
- Type 1 diabetes – insulin dependent – is caused by the actual lack of insulin because of damage of β cells in the Islets of Langerhans.
- Type 2 diabetes – insulin-independent – is a metabolic disease, often linked with obesity. Primarily, it is characterized by resistance to insulin, relative lack of insulin and hyperglycemia.
One of the most common diseases in the modern world, the World Health Organization estimates that there are 347 million people suffering from diabetes 1. According to the report prepared by pharmaceutical company Novonordisk from 2013, there are 3 million diabetics in Poland2. It is projected that, the prevalence of total diabetes (diagnosed and undiagnosed) in the United States will increase from its current level of about 1 in 10 adults to between 1 in 5 and 1 in 3 adults in 20503.
It will not come as a surprise that the prevention and treatment of diabetes constitutes a serious challenge for modern medicine. In the case of type 1 diabetes, patients are treated with insulin, which is not produced by damaged cells of the pancreas. For a number of patients, everyday injections and diet are a problem. However, it has to be emphasized, that the production of insulin constituted a breakthrough in the treatment of this potentially lethal disease. In patients with type 2 diabetes, a change of lifestyle is recommended. The use of insulin is not recommended until it is necessary. It is commonly held that diabetes is incurable. Desperate patients sometimes resort to non-standard methods of treatment, such as Chinese medicine and acupuncture.
- In a group of obese women, electro-acupuncture resulted in an increased level of insulin in plasma. Additionally, the increased level of C-peptide –cut from a particle of proinsulin during the release of insulin from pancreas to blood, was tested4.
- In an older study by Szczudlik, at first a slight decrease of insulin level five minutes after the procedure was observed, and then an increase of insulin level after 30 minutes5.
What is more, in a contemporary study by Turkish researchers6, a significant decrease of glucose levels in blood was observed. In the discussed review, fourteen studies conducted on animals, mostly rats, were included. Because of a large discrepancy of used interventions and technical parameters of simulations, it is difficult to draw any conclusions. However:
- Electro-acupuncture in healthy rats resulted in a decrease of glycemia(blood glucose levels), whilst insulin and β-endorphin levels increased.
- In studies on rats with type-2 diabetes, electro-acupuncture caused a decrease of glycemia and an increase in insulin levels.
- Studies on rats with type-1 diabetes provided divergent results, which may be partially justified by insufficient stimulation of points. In a study, in which electro-acupuncture with current of 10 mA and frequency of 15 hz was applied to acupuncture point st-36 for 30 minutes, there was a significant reduction of glycemia.
Increased resistance to insulin is one of the causes of type-2 diabetes. In 2010, a review of literature studying the influence of acupuncture on insulin resistance was published7. After analyzing 234 articles, the authors concluded that there is evidence confirming the efficacy of acupuncture as a method of treatment of insulin resistance; although, it is limited.
Further information regarding the influence of acupuncture on metabolism in patients with diabetes is based on clinical studies of efficacy of this method in treatment of diabetic polyneuropathy.
Published in a 2006 study, the efficacy of two different acupuncture protocols and a pharmacological therapy in the treatment of polyneuropathy stemming from diabetes were compared8. In both acupuncture groups, acupuncture provided better results than pharmacotherapy. Moreover, there was a decrease of blood glucose levels in all groups and additionally, there was a decrease of total cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol in both acupuncture groups.
The efficacy of acupuncture in the treatment of diabetic polyneuropathy was observed in Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice9. The study included 46 patients; the period of observation was relatively long and amounted to one year. In 77% of patients, a significant improvement was noted. In seven of them (21%) symptoms disappeared completely. In patients who at the beginning used medications, 67% stopped using them entirely, or significantly reduced the dosage. No complications were observed during the study.
One of the possible mechanisms contributing to the high efficacy of acupuncture in the treatment of diabetic polyneuropathy may be its influence on local levels of nitrogen and improvement of circulation10.
Because of the popularity of this therapy in Eastern Asia’s countries, a review of literature on this issue was prepared(source)7. The results of 5 studies were discussed. Because of its heterogenity, it is impossible to draw clear conclusions. However, results of particular studies indicate that moxibustion treatment may have a positive influence on glycemia. Combined with acupuncture, moxibustion treatment constitutes an efficient method regulating level of glucose in blood and urine, and also the level of glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c).