Complementary and Alternative Treatments for Diabetes

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to diabetes treatment, which is why more people are seeking their own treatment pathways. Yet there are so many alternatives available, it can be difficult to know which one to choose. Like with traditional diabetes treatment, everyone is different, and what works for one will not necessarily work for another. Often it is a matter of trial and error. You can, however, increase your chances of an alternative therapy working by doing your research first. This will help you select the best option for you.

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What are complementary and alternative treatments for diabetes?

For those eager to explore other forms of treatment, a plethora of therapies — collectively known as Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) — may be considered. While complementary therapies are designed to be used in addition to orthodox medicine, alternative therapies tend to be used instead of conventional treatment.

Here are six of the most widely used complementary and alternative therapies.

Acupuncture

What is it?

Acupuncture is a form of Chinese traditional medicine in which thin needles are inserted into different areas of your body. Since the practices and theories supporting acupuncture are not based on scientific knowledge, most people who employ acupuncture do so as a complementary rather than alternative treatment.

What happens?

An acupuncturist will first examine and assess your condition. Based on their findings, they would insert between four to 20 needles into your body for about 30 minutes. During this time, expect to feel relaxed and possibly sleepy. Although the thought of needles sounds painful, acupuncture is almost painless, eliciting a slight tingling sensation at most.

What are the benefits?

Several studies have shown acupuncture to help with the management of diabetes by reducing blood sugar levels, lowering insulin resistance and healing neuropathy.

Is it safe?

Acupuncture is considered safe, but it must be done right for it to be completely risk free. If you receive acupuncture from a poorly trained practitioner who lacks the necessary skills and equipment, it can be dangerous, so always check credentials. In the U.S., acupuncture specialists are licensed by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM).

Hypnosis

What is it?

Hypnosis involves putting a person into a deep state of concentration, where they become suggestible. By tapping into this suggestibility, therapists can help their clients overcome bad habits or embark on positive changes.

What happens?

During the session, expect to be spoken to in a soothing manner that encourages you to feel relaxed and secure. You will remain aware of your surroundings and your actions, however; therapeutic hypnosis isn’t like you see in the movies, where you don’t know what you are doing or saying. You will merely be in such a relaxed state that you will be able to better access and address the thoughts or feelings that may be preventing you from reaching your goals.

What are the benefits?

Some of the lifestyle changes necessary to manage diabetes can be difficult, but hypnosis could help motivate you to exercise, adopt healthy eating practices and stay faithful to your medication regimen. In addition, people looking for ways to deal with anxiety, stress, insomnia, mood disorders and even pain have touted the benefits of hypnosis.

Is it safe?

Hypnosis does come with some caveats, including some reports of headaches, dizziness, anxiety and false memories. However, overall, it is a safe practice, especially if you ensure your hypnotist is certified.

Acupressure

What is it?

Similar in principle to acupuncture, acupressure involves applying physical pressure to “acupuncture points” around the body. Pressure is usually applied by hand, elbow or other equipment.

What happens?

During an acupressure session, your acupressure specialist will apply light pressure to parts of your body, such as your knees, feet and hands.

What are the benefits?

Several pressure points can help improve organ activity, blood circulation and blood sugar metabolism. It has also been found to help control fasting blood sugar and increase levels of insulin in people with diabetes.

Is it safe?

Acupressure is considered a safe practice, but it must be performed with the right amounts of pressure to avoid bruising.

Qigong

What is it?

Qigong is a set of body postures and movements combined with controlled breathing and meditation. The aim is to manage one’s life energy — or “qi,” as it is known by the Chinese.

What are the benefits?

Although qigong has little support in contemporary medicine, research has shown it to have significant positive effects on fasting blood sugar, HbA1c, postprandial blood glucose and other diabetes indicators.

Is it safe?

Qigong is safe, but due to its many forms and intricacies, it can be daunting for beginners. It is advisable to find a teacher who can take you through the various moves and help you perfect them.

Mindfulness

What is it?

Mindfulness involves bringing your concentration and attention to the present — rather than thinking about the past or future. The practice is often used to manage the symptoms of depression, stress and anxiety.

What are the benefits?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), increases in depression, stress and anxiety are associated with increases in blood sugar. Given the stress that can come from learning to managing diabetes, practicing mindfulness can help you power through any negative emotions that may arise.

Is it safe?

Mindfulness seems harmless, but there have been some reports of it leading to panic and depression, particularly in those who have a history of trauma. To learn more about the practice and if it is safe for you, consider enrolling in a class first.

Ayurveda

What is it?

Developed thousands of years ago in India, Ayurveda — also referred to as “Mother of All Healing” — is a method of healing based on the premise that good health stems from a balance between the mind, body and spirit. Ayurveda employs the use of massage, diet, herbs, exercise and aromatherapy to keep this balance and maintain good health.

What are the benefits?

Oral Ayurvedic body purification therapy has been found to effectively control fasting blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes.

Is it safe?

While Ayurveda practices such as meditation and yoga are safe, herbal medicines may trigger adverse side effects. In some cases, Ayurveda herbs have been known to contain high levels of heavy metals that are harmful to the body. For this reason, it is essential that you consult a doctor before you begin taking any herbal medication.

Finding the needle in the haystack

Finding the complementary or alternative therapy that is right for you can feel like finding a needle in a haystack. To help, here is a quick guide to the benefits of each to get you started in your search.

Alternative Treatments for Diabetes

Before settling on any alternative therapy, be sure to weigh its proposed benefits with its potential side effects. Preferably, seek counsel from your doctor before beginning any therapy to determine if it can play an effective role in your diabetes self-management.

Want to learn more about complementary and alternative treatments for diabetes? Read “Yoga for Diabetes,” “Meditation and the Art of Diabetes Management” and “Alternative and Complementary Therapies for Diabetes.”

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