A Brief History of Diabetes Mellitus and TCM

Diabetes is first mentioned in the traditional Chinese medicine literature in the 1st century BCE during the early Han dynasty. In one of the books of the Huang Di Nei Jing Su Wen (Simple Questions), a condition referred to as xiao ke 消渴 was described as a disease state characterized by persistent thirst and hunger, copious urination, and weight loss (emaciation). The Su Wen made the simple observation that xiao ke is due to consuming too much fatty, sweet, or rich food and that the condition occurs among the wealthy. By standards of the day in ancient China, modern Americans would be considered wealthy. Xiao ke was long considered a disease of affluence. Today it can be quite expensive to eat organic, whole food in a market with a short local growing season. As a result, people's diets may be largely composed of highly manufactured and/or processed foods.

Xiao ke was differentiated into three subtypes involving the three jiao (burners) of the body, with one each of the "three poly's" (polydypsia, polyphagia, and polyuria (i.e., excessive thirst, hunger, and urination) being associated with the upper, middle, and lower burners, respectively. One of the great contributions of biomedical laboratory analysis is the ability to rather clearly identify disease states before a patient realizes that they have a disease. This is true of both diabetes and hypertension (high blood pressure) where urinalysis and blood-pressure cuff readings can identify the presence of disease before the patient may know that they are truly sick. An astute clinician (either a Chinese medicine practitioner/acupuncturist or a Western medicine clinician) may be able to identify such conditions based on directly observable signs and/or symptoms (a hallmark of TCM), but it is always nice to be able to validate clinical diagnoses with laboratory analysis.

TCM does have effective treatments for diabetes (involving acupuncture and/or Chinese herbal formulas). At HealthPoint we are careful to insist that patients with seriously high blood glucose levels work carefully with their Western primary care physician or endocrinologist. Diabetes is, fundamentally, a vascular disease which, if not properly managed, can lead to serious consequences.

Contemporary TCM texts usually include diabetes within the disease diagnosis of xiao ke. In modern clinical practice, however, many patients diagnosed with diabetes or pre-diabetic conditions are overweight and thus do not display at least one of the characteristic symptoms of xiao ke (weight loss / emaciation). Moreover, the complications of diabetes are not necessarily present in xiao ke, and diseases other than diabetes mellitus can lead to symptoms of xiao ke such as diabetes insipidus, hyperaldosteronism and hyperparathyroidism.

Please call us at 952-767-4910 if you have questions about TCM treatment off Diabetes Mellitus.

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