Diabetes in Chinese Medicine

Diabetes has long been recognized as a unique disorder in Chinese Medicine. In Chinese, diabetes is known as Xiao Ke, which translates as “Wasting and Thirsting Disorder” because chronic patients often exhibit emaciation—wasting—and polydipsia—excessive thirst. Xiao Ke syndrome was first mentioned in the medical classic Huang Di Nei Jing, written at least two thousand years ago. Later, in 752 AD, the physician Wang Tao also mentioned Xiao Ke in his medical text Wai Tai Mi Yao. He noted that the condition was indicated by sweet urine and recommended eating pork pancreas as a treatment method, which seems to indicate some understanding that the pancreas was the organ involved in the development of the disease. Wang Tao also stated that the urine of patients with diabetes should be tested daily to monitor the progress of the disease and the effects of treatment.

The Yellow Emperor

Attributed author of Huang Di Nei Jing

Over the centuries many herbal formulas have been been developed to address this condition, most containing herbs that have since been shown to have a regulatory effect on blood sugar levels. In modern clinical practice, herbal formulas are usually used as an adjunct therapy alongside western medications. A recent clinical trial of 800 adults with type 2 diabetes demonstrated the value of this approach.

The study compared a group receiving the anti-diabetic drug Glibenclamide with another group receiving Glibenclamide along with a Chinese herbal medicine formula. The study found that the patients receiving both Glibenclamide and Chinese herbs were 38% less likely to have a hypoglycemic episode—dangerously low blood sugar—than the patients receiving Glibenclamide alone. Additionally, the group receiving the herbal formula were also less likely to experience other diabetes symptoms including fatigue, excess hunger and palpitations.

Studies like this one demonstrate the value of an integrated approach to medicine. Combining Western and Traditional Chinese medicine appropriately can greatly improve the quality of life and treatment outcomes not only for patients with diabetes, but many other conditions as well.

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