Acupuncture is an ancient health care method that uses the stimulation of certain pressure points around the body to help cure illnesses and promote physical and emotional well-being. The practice of acupuncture is performed by inserting tiny, sterile needles into specific activation points on a patient’s body to relieve pain and induce healing. Modern acupuncture has become increasingly popular over the past 20 years due to its effectiveness in treating a range of health conditions, such as migraines, chronic pain, and diabetes.

Several studies have shown that acupuncture may benefit some people with diabetes and reduce the risk of developing prediabetes, a warning sign that the body is starting to become resistant to insulin. Patients who develop prediabetes are at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Acupuncture can:

  • Improve glucose levels and insulin resistance
  • Help with weight loss
  • Relieve the symptoms of neuropathy
  • Blood sugar levels and insulin resistance

Cortisol is the primary hormone that signals the body to feel stressed, can cause the liver to produce more glucose, and increase insulin sensitivity.

It is believed that acupuncture can reduce the amount of cortisol in the body, which can help balance blood sugar levels and improves glucose tolerance. There is also a lower risk of harmful side effects sometimes associated with pharmaceutical treatments.

Weight loss

Clinical trials suggest that when combined with metformin, one of the most common medications used to treat diabetes, the anti-obesity effect of acupuncture can reduce the impact of some diabetes symptoms.

The results have shown a big improvement in body mass index (BMI), weight, fasting glucose, and insulin levels.

Neuropathy

Neuropathy is one of the most common complications of diabetes and roughly 30% of patients with type 2 diabetes will develop this condition. It causes pain and numbness which impacts the person’s quality of life, mobility, independence, daily activity, mood, and self-worth and increases morbidity. It also raises the risk of infection, foot ulcers, and amputation, and is one of the main causes of disability and high medical costs.

Initial studies have shown that acupuncture relieves pain and improves sensation. It is also a cost-effective treatment with fewer side effects.

Before you start Acupuncture

Before you see an acupuncturist for diabetes treatment, you should consult with your doctor first. They will decide if it is safe for you to receive acupuncture treatment. Patients who use blood thinners or suffer from a blood clotting disease must consider the side effects before using this treatment. Your doctor may also prescribe the correct acupuncture procedure and monitor your symptoms to see whether the treatment is working.

Do not stop taking any medication prescribed by your doctor, because you feel the acupuncture is working. Diabetes treatment can easily be disrupted by any sudden changes to your treatment.

Getting acupuncture usually involves a few steps:

  • Always make sure that your acupuncturist is certified and/or licensed to perform the treatment.
  • At your first appointment, your acupuncturist will discuss your medical history and assess your specific diabetes symptoms.
  • They will ask you questions about your lifestyle, stress levels, diet, pain levels, and the outcomes you want to achieve from acupuncture.
  • Make sure that the area where you will receive your acupuncture is sterile to avoid the spread of disease and infection and is quiet and relaxing.
  • Most treatments are between 20 and 30 minutes, using around 5 to 20 very thin needles. You will most likely start with treatments twice a week to see how your body responds.

Acupuncture pressure points for diabetes

The five acupressure pressure points for diabetes are:

  • On the inside of the wrist.
  • Between the thumb and forefinger.
  • Between the big toe and the second toe.
  • Below the knees on both sides.
  • At the top of the calves on both legs.

Women receiving acupuncture

Acupuncture Techniques

Medical acupuncture styles and techniques for treating diabetes might be different from those for treating pain. Most people experience little discomfort or pain and only feel a mild stinging sensation.

These are the three treatments that have been broadly researched: electroacupuncture, the wrist-ankle technique, and herbal acupuncture.

Electroacupuncture

This is the most common type of acupuncture used to treat diabetes. It is like traditional acupuncture but instead, a pair of needles are connected to a device that transmits electric pulses. This technique passes electrical impulses from one needle to the other. This treatment is used to reduce the pain caused by neuropathy and manage blood glucose levels.

Electroacupuncture

Wrist-ankle

This method of acupuncture involves deep stimulation of the wrist and ankle nerves. Although more research is needed on this type of acupuncture, scientists believe that this treatment is safe because the needles are not inserted near delicate organs. Results have shown that it can effectively relieve pain caused by neuritis.

Herbal acupuncture

This is a modern form of acupuncture where herbs are injected into acupuncture points. The body absorbs the herbs quickly and they work thoroughly. Treatment depends on the patient’s age and symptoms and can be adjusted depending on how their body responds.

Reports show that this treatment may help to maintain blood glucose levels in people with type 2 diabetes.

After the appointment

It is important to have realistic expectations after an appointment. Sometimes you will feel better immediately, or it may take a few weeks to notice a difference in your diabetes symptoms. You can even feel worse before you start feeling better.

If treatment is effective, your acupuncturist can eventually reduce it to only twice a month.

Side effects

The risks of acupuncture are low if you have a competent, certified acupuncturist performing the treatment.

Some of the general side effects of acupuncture are:

  • Soreness where the needles were inserted
  • Bleeding where the needles punctured the skin
  • Bruising

Uncommon side effects are drowsiness, feeling sick, dizziness, worsening of pre-existing symptoms, allergic reaction, skin rash, and tiredness.

If you are worried that the site of your acupuncture treatment appears infected or experience any unusual symptoms, you should contact your doctor immediately.

Case study

Many controlled studies have been done to determine the effects of acupuncture on diabetes patients. In one case study, a 74-year-old woman with poorly controlled diabetes suffered from neuropathy, and experienced numbness, stiffness, and constant pain in both her feet, especially at night. This caused her sleep disturbances and reduced her quality of life. She was keen to try a few sessions of acupuncture therapy after little to no success with standard treatment options. She completed a 6-week course of acupuncture where 6 needles were inserted into each of her feet for 30 minutes. During the last week of her treatment, she experienced no more neuropathic pain in her feet, felt more energetic, was able to walk more, and had increased sensation in her ankle joint.

Summary

Studies have shown that acupuncture offers many health benefits. While there are positive results, there is no clear indication that acupuncture will improve the symptoms of type 2 diabetes. Acupuncture should rather be seen as a complementary therapy instead of the only therapy. Patients can combine it with other types of diabetes treatment, including medication, a healthy, balanced diet, and regular exercise.

The decision to go for acupuncture treatment is a personal one. You must decide if the benefit will outweigh the cost and consult your doctor.