Can Acupuncture Help with Diabetes?

Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine are powerful allies for people with various types of Diabetes. Although Western Medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) use different approaches to treat common conditions, the importance falls on the quality of nutrition and lifestyle.

Diabetes, according to Western Medicine, is divided into three general categories (ADA, 2018):

  1. Type 1: Pancreatic beta-cell autoimmune destruction; usually diagnosed in children.

  2. Type 2: Functioning, yet progressive beta-cell destruction, insulin resistance. It used to be considered adult-onset, yet now it is commonly diagnosed in children due to poor diet.

  3. Gestational: Hyperglycemia during pregnancy; usually resolves itself following the baby's delivery.

The Western Medicine approach is one-size-fits-all and can drastically benefit blood glucose at dangerous levels. Everyone with the diagnosis of Diabetes Type 2 will most likely start with metformin and receive regular blood tests to determine the A1C over time. Medication is then adjusted, or your doctor may add insulin accordingly. Diabetes is caused by a failure of the cell's ability to accept insulin and dumps toxins into the blood, or the pancreas is not able to produce adequate insulin to lower blood glucose.

TCM views the body as a whole and strives to find the imbalances responsible for the disease condition or symptoms. The story unravels through in-depth questioning about the patient's sleep, digestion, constitution, emotions, and lifestyle. Traditional diagnostic tools, such as reading the tongue and pulse or palpating the channels, provide further information required to determine the individual's pattern diagnosis. Diabetes isn’t a “one size fits all," but a symptom of a deeper problem (Guo, 2014).

Patterns are poetically named after the organ systems affected plus thousands of years spent observing Nature's climates and environments. Our internal climate is described according to these observations: Hot or Cold, Dry or Damp/Phlegm, Internal or External, Yin or Yang, Excess or Deficient. Diabetes translated as "Wasting and Thirsting Disease" or Xiao Ke, is a condition of dampness, phlegm, and heat that can affect the upper, middle, or lower aspects of the systems.

The Lung and Spleen are responsible for preventing dampness accumulation in the body. Think about a damp climate, full of moss and mold, and that sticky humidity that can almost weigh you down. The same is considered of dampness within the body. We want a healthy amount of fluids flowing smoothly, such as a beautiful river. But imagine that river all but empty, with sludgy puddles barely flowing and stagnant. Or that same river is overflowing and flooding the surrounding area. Both are considered damp, and both require balance. The excess needs to be drained, so the flooding turns to smooth flow and containment. The deficiency example requires movement with the addition of healthy fluids (such as the river filling back up and flowing smoothly).

In the body, dampness can be edema, weight gain & retention, a slow metabolism, fatigue and heavy sensations, headaches, Diabetes, and more. Phlegm is further congealed dampness, think plague in the blood vessels or sticky phlegm from a cold. Heat is a bit more obvious and can show as emotions (irritability, anger), high blood pressure, redness in color, sensations of being warm, inflammation, and so on. Treatment is specifically individualized to harmonize the climate and imbalance.

Here are a few example patterns concerning Diabetes (Flaws & Sionneau, 226-229):

  • Lung Heat Injuring Fluids Pattern: This pattern is also known as "Upper Wasting" and corresponds to early-stage Diabetes. Symptoms of this pattern include thirst and having a dry mouth and tongue, frequent and copious urination, red tongue edges and tip, thin yellow tongue fur, and a rapid surging pulse. The treatment principles would involve clearing heat from the Lungs and Stomach, creating more nourishing fluids, and controlling thirst. Foods such as rice and pear have moistening and cooling therapeutics.

  • Intense Stomach Heat Pattern: "Middle Wasting" involves excessive eating and feeling hungry even after food as the main symptoms. Thirst and frequent urination, body emaciation, dry stools, and a red tongue with yellow fur are common. Here we want to clear the Stomach and drain the fire out, moisten the intestines and free the flow of the stools. Avoiding alcohol, hot and spicy foods, dairy, processed or greasy foods, and focusing on nutrition is key to this pattern.

  • Kidney Yin Deficiency Pattern: "Lower Wasting" relates more to frequent and excessive urination, especially at night. Accompanying symptoms may include dry mouth, dizziness, ringing in the ear, low back and knee soreness, and a dry red tongue with scanty yellow fur. In this case, the treatment would involve supplementing the Kidneys, enriching Yin (fluids, moisture, nourishment, cooling), and nourishing the blood. This patient would benefit most from a diet with fish, sea vegetables, dark leafy greens, dark beans (kidney beans), bone broth, miso soup, vitamins and minerals, and plenty of water.


  1. American Diabetes Association. (2018). Classification and Diagnosis of Diabetes: Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes-2018. Diabetes care, 41(Suppl 1), S13–S27.

  2. Flaws, B., and Sionneau, P. The Treatment of Modern Western Medical Diseases with Chinese Medicine. Expanded, Blue Poppy Enterprises, Inc., 2001, pp. 226–29.

  3. Guo, J., Chen, H., Song, J., Wang, J., Zhao, L., and Tong X. (July 14, 2014). Syndrome Differentiation of Diabetes by the Traditional Chinese Medicine according to Evidence-Based Medicine and Expert Consensus Opinion. Article ID 492193.

  4. Zheng, A.S.D. (2011). Essentials of Chinese Medicine. Internal Medicine 2nd Edition. Pgs 281-289. Bridge Publishing Group. ISBN: 978-0-9728439-8-0.

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