Using Acupuncture to Balance Blood Sugar

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In my last post, I addressed Cynthia’s question about insomnia. It is interesting that she also asked about hypertension and anxiety. These are often all symptoms of a common problem—hypoglycemia—rather than separate illnesses.

Hypoglycemia is defined as “too little blood glucose.” In other words, the body reacts to a high-carbohydrate diet by increasing insulin secretion. Too much insulin causes low blood sugar—bringing on a sugar “crash.” Think of how many carbs and sugar, in all its guises, you eat in a day. You may be one of those people who, each time you start to feel tired, reach for more carbs or caffeine. If you are a typical American, you have been on a hypoglycemic roller coaster for years.

In fact, Marlene Merritt, of Merritt Wellness Center, states, “In our years of experience, we have found that, by far, the most damage someone can do to the body is having blood sugar imbalances. We eat more sugar and refined carbs (same thing, really) in a week than people ate in a year 200 years ago. This is the common factor in almost every modern disease.”

Fatigue is one of the most common complaints in a medical practice, and certainly in my acupuncture practice. Upon questioning, I often find patients have other symptoms of hypoglycemia: feeling irritable or shaky between meals; difficulty concentrating; fluctuating energy throughout the day, with often severe lows in the afternoon; anxiety; insomnia; depression; headaches; craving sugar or caffeine to get through the day.

Incidentally, anyone who frequently skips meals, eats a lot of sugar and carbs, experiences high stress, and doesn’t exercise could be on the road to insulin resistance and its serious consequences: metabolic syndrome and possibly type 2 diabetes.

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) emphasizes the importance of sound nutrition as the foundation of health. In TCM, the spleen extracts nutrients from the food and drink you ingest and transforms them into the material basis for qi and Blood. TCM also says that each organ system has a flavor associated with it. A small amount of this flavor will tonify the organ, but if eaten in excess, the same flavor will weaken the function of that organ. Sweet is the flavor associated with the spleen. So for example, the sweet flavor of brown rice, an apple, or of root vegetables will tonify the spleen. The sweetness of sugar and refined carbohydrates, though, is too concentrated, and these foods will weaken the spleen’s function, undermining the health of the entire system.

Merritt says: “It might help to think of blood-sugar imbalances like this: We’re given a certain amount of insulin-glucose activity in our cells in a lifetime. If we use up all of it in the first three or four decades of our life by eating too many refined carbohydrates and sugar, then the damage has been done. To avoid serious health problems as you get older … it is imperative that you reduce or eliminate carbs to the point where you don’t crave sugar anymore. That starts the cells to begin to turn off the sugar response. For some people, that will be less than 72 grams of carbohydrates per day.”

What you can do to regulate your blood sugar and get off the hypoglycemic roller coaster:

1.  Go to www.calorieking.com to check the total carbohydrate count of common foods. Read labels before you buy!

2. Keep to a daily diet. Eat something protein and fat-based every two to three hours—before you are hungry!—never skip a meal, especially breakfast; avoid white foods (rice, eg), refined carbohydrates, and sugar; highlight healthy fats and organic foods as much as possible. Good sources of fats include poultry, fish, avocado, eggs, butter, dairy, nuts and seeds, and olive oil, flaxseeds, sesame and coconut oils. Also, eat lots of fresh veggies to balance the fats and protein.

3. Exercise is one of the most important things to reduce insulin resistance and improve blood glucose metabolism. It doesn’t have to be much, but it has to be consistent—a minimum of 30 minutes four to five times a week. Walking, swimming, and hiking are all great options.

4. Get regular acupuncture treatment, including points to strengthen the spleen and stomach meridians, as well as auricular (ear) acupuncture to help with addictive behaviors. Chinese herbal formulas such as bu zhong yi qi tan will boost spleen function. I also use the herb gymnema to help control sugar cravings.