Diabetes can be a terrible disease for people; it’s a chronic disease that involves not just medicines but aggressive lifestyle changes as well as intrusive and painful glucose checks, not to mention the insulin injections. And the long term effects on your body can be devastating — nerve pain, foot infections and amputations, kidney failure, etc. So, if your doctor ever tells you that you have early, borderline diabetes (“pre-diabetes”), this should be a huge wake-up call to enact major lifestyle changes.
The good thing is that diabetes is greatly effected by lifestyle choices, especially obesity, food choices, and exercise. And now there is growing evidence that Chinese TCM herbs can also help. As the article below reviews, a Cochrane database literature review shows that some Chinese herbs actually can help those who have mild forms, or early stages, of diabetes. The effect is even better when combining herbs with exercise. Part of their analysis states:
Meta-analysis of eight trials showed that those receiving Chinese herbal medicines combined with lifestyle modification were more than twice as likely to have their fasting plasma glucose levels return to normal levels compared to lifestyle modification alone (RR 2.07). Those receiving Chinese herbs were less likely to progress to diabetes over the duration of the trial (RR 0.33). However, all trials had a considerable risk of bias and none of the specific herbal medicines comparison data was available from more than one study.
It’s always nice to see good literature reviews of Chinese TCM; these reviews are essential for screening the overwhelming amounts of Chinese herbs to see what actually works and can be effective for Western-style diseases and patients. As this review also finds, one major problem with many Chinese research papers is “considerable risk of bias”, which does warrant caution to not get too excited about the findings. The Cochrane database has a nice collection of other Chinese herbs and their effectiveness in other diseases (scroll down to the “Chinese herbal medicines” group).
So, should expats with borderline diabetes try this? I’m not a TCM doctor, but I have heard anecdotal reports of TCM working well for diabetes. I think anyone who has been told by their doctor that they are borderline diabetic should do everything possible to avoid diabetes. The #1 issues are always diet changes and exercise, but I wouldn’t discourage a patient who wants to consult with a good TCM doctor and discuss their options. This review tested various Chinese herbal mixes traditionally used for blood-sugar control — products like Jiangtang Bushen, Xiaoke huaya and Tang Kang yin.
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