Acupuncture is a popular therapy in China. It is said to be most effective in dealing with pain. Meridians are pathways through which qi is believed to flow. There are fourteen major meridian lines in the human body—one meridian for each of the twelve inner organs.
Blockages, impediments, and desensitization due to an infection or ailment impede the flow of qi through these meridians, resulting in disease manifestation. These impediments or blockages are removed with the help of acupuncture needles or by applying pressure at specific points. Today, multiple devices such as lasers, electromagnetic devices, and physical pressure with the help of steel balls are also used to apply pressure at acupuncture points.
In ancient times, the number of acupuncture points was believed to be 365. More issues have since been identified. Through these points, one can reach out to the meridians. Today, meridians and acupuncture points are associated with nervous system pressure points. Each nerve point triggers a response in a specific organ.
This description of meridians and acupuncture points may not accurately describe the ancient concept. But for simplicity, I will stick to this description.
Pressure on a specific acupuncture point stimulates the associated nerves that trigger the release of hormones and biochemicals. These provide relief to the affected part of the organ. In China, acupuncture is used extensively in treating a range of ailments. It is said to be most effective in dealing with pain.
Instead of making a subjective statement on the role of acupressure and acupuncture in diabetes treatment and management, let us look at the scientific evidence on this subject:
Numerous randomized clinical trials in North America and Europe have studied the analgesic impact of acupuncture.
A review of published scientific papers between 1979 and 2009 notes that acupuncture treatment reverses metabolic disorders such as enhanced blood sugar levels, inflammation, obesity, and other effects that contribute to building insulin resistance. (Liang, F et al., 2010) Acupuncture and moxibustion, individually or together, were observed to be an effective therapy for diabetes. (Liao, H., et al., 2007).
Acupuncture is an effective long-term maintenance treatment for diabetes patients suffering from pain caused by the stimulation of nerves. This condition is called peripheral neuropathy. People with diabetes often observe unexplained pain in the feet. Diabetes causes damage to neural networks. The damage can result in pain in the feet or other parts of the body. This phenomenon is called peripheral neuropathy. Acupuncture helps reduce the pain caused by peripheral neuropathy. (Abuaisha, B.B., et al., 1998; Zhang, C., et al., 2010; Tong, Y. et al., 2010)
Points in the abdominal region are often targeted in acupuncture to provide relief to obese type 2 diabetes patients. Acupuncture leads to a lowering of blood pressure and blood sugar levels, improvement in insulin resistance, and lowering of lipid levels in the blood. (Yang, Y., et al., 2015; Wang, Y., et al., 2014; Zhi-cheng, L., et al., 2004) Experimental rats show a similar impact. (Peplow, P.V. et al., 2012)
Not just this, Chinese scholars report that acupuncture also helped in containing diabetes-induced stomach ailment -gastroparesis. (Wang, L., 2004; Chang, C.S., et al., 2001)
Acupuncture stimulates neuropeptides and hormones. These have a beneficial impact on insulin sensitivity, inflammation, and other effects of diabetes. (Yu, J.S. et al., 2013)
Acupuncture is practiced not just in China but also in Korea, Japan, and Tibet. Acupuncture helps reduce nerve damage-related pain in diabetes patients in Japan and China. Other parameters, like glucose and heart rate levels, remain unaffected. (Ahn, A.C. et al., 2007)
If you carefully look at the scientific studies in support of acupuncture on diabetes patients, most of these have emanated from China. The lack of geographical variation is a cause for concern. The scientists further stress the need to train Chinese researchers to undertake fair trials. (Chen, W., et al., 2013) The publishers of the journal, though, have distanced themselves from the comments of this group of scientists. But doubts do remain.
My conclusion is based on the weight of scientific evidence that acupuncture has a role in pain management. But does this extend to bringing down blood sugar levels or directly impacting diabetic conditions? It is a question on which the jury is still out.
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