Diabetes Treatment in Ayurveda
Diabetes is a major cause of blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, stroke and lower limb amputation. Nearly 10% of the total world population is diabetic. That is 463 million people and the numbers are expected to grow by 25% by the year 2030. (1) Despite the advance of modern medicine and the advent of newer pharmaceuticals, diabetes continues to be one of the leading causes of death worldwide. In 2019, diabetes was the direct cause of 1.5 million deaths. (2) Ayurvedic treatments for diabetes can help to reduce these grim figures.
Ayurvedic treatment can help to manage diabetes completely without side effects if started in an early stage. Ayurvedic medicines and treatment interventions can also help people whose blood sugar levels are not controlled despite using modern medicines. Ayurveda can also be used to prevent and reduce the multi system degeneration and cell damage occurring due to diabetes.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes is the condition when there is too much unused glucose in the blood. This increase in glucose can be caused in two ways.
- When there is a shortage of insulin in the body or
- when the body is not able to use insulin properly to metabolise glucose.
Insulin is the hormone which regulates blood sugar levels in the body. It enables cells to take up glucose and facilitates the storage of glucose in the liver. Insulin is produced by specialised cells called beta cells, inside the pancreas.
There are two types of diabetes, namely type 1 and type 2.
Type 1 diabetes (Insulin dependent diabetes mellitus): This condition is caused by the inability of the pancreas to produce enough insulin. This condition is usually caused as an autoimmune condition – the insulin producing cells are destroyed by the body’s own immune system. This is the most common type of diabetes in children, and is called juvenile diabetes. Although this type of diabetes can occur in any age, it mostly manifests between 4-6 years of age. 10% of all individuals having diabetes have type 1 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes: Formerly called non-insulin-dependent diabetes, is caused when the body cells are unable to use the inulin, despite insulin being produced sufficiently. This is often termed insulin resistance. This type of diabetes is largely the result of excess body weight and physical inactivity. According to recent WHO reports, until recently, type 2 diabetes was seen only in adults but it is now also occurring increasingly in children and adolescents. So much so that in some parts of the world type 2 diabetes has become the main type of diabetes in children.
Sedentary lifestyle, obesity, improper food habits especially including refined sugar, grains and flours, saturated and trans fats, irregular sleep etc are predisposing factors to type two diabetes, along with genetic factors.
Gestational diabetes: Gestational diabetes is the increased blood sugar levels during pregnancy. The levels are often less than regular diabetes values. Women with gestational diabetes are at an increased risk of complications during pregnancy and at delivery. These women and possibly their children are also at increased risk of type 2 diabetes in the future.
What are the Symptoms of Diabetes?
The symptoms of diabetes might be felt prominently in juvenile diabetes (type 1). But in type 2 diabetes, the symptoms are not pronounced, and may be noted only in an advanced stage. This results in a late identification of the disease and loss of important time for treatment.
As early detection helps in better treatment outcomes, it is recommended to check blood sugar regularly, especially those who are genetically susceptible and those leading a sedentary lifestyle. Gestational diabetes is diagnosed through prenatal screening, rather than through reported symptoms.
Most common symptoms of diabetes include:
- Abnormal thirst and dry mouth
- Weight loss (sudden in juvenile diabetes)
- Frequent urination
- Lack of energy, tiredness
- Constant hunger despite eating
- Blurred vision
- Bedwetting (in juvenile diabetes)
Why is diabetes a dangerous condition affecting multiple organ systems?
Glucose is a reactive molecule and when a high amount of glucose is circulating in your blood for so long, it causes damage to cell linings. Especially the capillaries, which are the small blood vessels that are damaged. This impairs the circulation in all parts of the body and causes damage to vital organs.
The reduced circulation and excess glucose molecules themselves also cause damages to nerve cells and reduce their ability to send signals. This will lead to loss of sensation and other symptoms like pain, tingling sensations, numbness etc. This is often termed diabetic neuropathy.
Diabetes also causes damage to all cells by reducing their ability to produce energy, thereby starving them. Reduced ability for tissue repair and cell regeneration cause prolonged or non healing of wounds.
These effects result in widespread complications of diabetes including diabetic retinopathy (damage to vision), nephropathy (damage to kidneys), neuropathy, sexual issues like weakness, decreased sensations and libido etc.
Diabetes increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes by two to three times. (3) Diabetic nephropathy is one of the leading causes of kidney failure while diabetic retinopathy is the same for blindness. Combined with reduced blood flow, neuropathy (nerve damage) in the feet increases the chance of foot ulcers, infection and eventual need for limb amputation.
Can Type 1 diabetes be prevented:
There is no conclusive evidence that insulin dependent diabetes can be prevented. However, there is some evidence that overweight and a high growth rate in children are weak risk factors, indicating that a healthy lifestyle can be beneficial. That includes avoiding both over-eating and a sedentary lifestyle in children who are in high risk due to family history. Also adhering to a healthy diet with low sugars and high fibre, and leading active life is helpful.
Can Type 2 diabetes be prevented:
Of course, Type two diabetes is preventable by following a healthy diet, active lifestyle and exercise.
Ayurvedic view about Diabetes:
Diabetes is viewed as a metabolic disorder by modern science. This is a shift in opinion made within the last 20-30 years, from a previous concept that it is a ‘hormonal’ disease due to the involvement of insulin. Whereas ayurvedic texts, written around 2500 years ago, have identified diabetes as a metabolic disorder itself. In ayurveda, diabetes comes under the broader category of ‘prameha’. ‘Prameha’ in ayurveda covers disorders associated with ‘kapha’ dosha, causing imbalance in fat metabolism and also in the urinary system. (4)
The causes of diabetes according to ayurveda includes overeating, especially of sweet, salty and sour tastes, combined with a sedentary lifestyle. The texts clearly indicates the association of impaired blood sugar with fat and metabolic syndrome. The prognosis of diabetes affecting multiple organ systems is also explained, underlining the need for early intervention.
What are the treatment options for Diabetes in Ayurveda:
Ayurveda considers diabetes as a ‘yapya’ roga. This means that it can be managed well by continued medications, diet and lifestyle modifications, but might not be completely cured.
While listing the treatment of diabetes, ayurveda texts painstakingly details the importance of diet and lifestyle modifications. A very simple diet and a lot of exercise is recommended in the texts. Low carbohydrate food like horse gram (cow peas) etc are mentioned as alternatives to normal meals. This goes in line with the modern research findings about the importance of exercise to reduce the insulin resistance and adhering to a low carbohydrate diet, even when medicines are used.
Current treatment of diabetes in ayurveda involves herbal medicines, panchakarma and lifestyle modifications. Medicines are chosen considering various factors like level of blood sugar, usage of other medications, body weight and health, complications or other symptoms, ‘prakruthi’ etc.
Panchakarma treatments are also chosen according to this and has to be done with good preparation and optimum intensity.
Ayurvedic Diet for Diabetes:
A detailed diet plan is designed considering your nutritional requirements according to your health condition, body type (Prakruti), stage of the disease, complications if any etc. Ayurveda also recommends considering ‘satmya’ while designing diabeticdiet plans. Which means, avoiding completely the food items which you are most familiar with may have a negative effect. Also sudden introduction of a diet based on totally new items might prove bad.
Importance of Ayurvedic lifestyle in present lifestyle:
One recommendation among the ayurvedic treatment for diabetes is the abandoning of luxury and adopting a simple lifestyle. Pertaining to the period when the texts are written, it includes leading an agrarian life, living with cows and doing manual farm labour, avoiding luxurious diets of the time like alcohol, milk, red meat etc. In modern times, a normal life involves the food and facilities which were considered as luxuries in ancient times. As advanced human beings, we should enjoy all luxuries of life. But for the lifestyle to take a toll on health is not ideal and prevents us from the very idea of enjoying life. Thus, keeping a ‘mid path’ as recommended by ayurveda while detailing tips for healthy life is the better option. Also since physical exercise from manual labour or farm life is not received, enough substitution of those with exercise regimes is important. Considering diet, in present times also, we should think about avoiding some of the luxury food items as many of those are poor in nutrition.
It is recommended to take consultation from a qualified ayurvedic doctor before starting ayurvedic medicine or treatments for diabetes. Ayurveda treatments online are available to clear doubts from doctors.
Feel free to drop a comment if you have any further queries about diabetes and Ayurvedic treatment for diabetes.
- Diabetes mellitus, fasting blood glucose concentration, and risk of vascular disease: a collaborative meta-analysis of 102 prospective studies. Emerging Risk Factors Collaboration.
- Vagbhata, Ashtanga Hrudayam, Nidana Sthana, Premeha Nidana.