Diabetes and Ayurveda Treatment (1)

What is ayurvedic treatment, is there an ayurvedic treatment for diabetes, how does the treatment work, what is the prognosis when using ayurvedic treatment. Why are more and more people adopting it as an alternative way of managing their diabetes? All these questions and more shall be answered in the following article.

Ayurveda is the world’s oldest surviving healing system. A form of alternative medicine and the traditional system of medicine of India, the word is a composite of the words “ayu” meaning life and “Veda” meaning knowledge. Thus roughly translated Ayurveda means “the science of life” and involves the care and treatment of human beings. To bring it home more succinctly, Ayurveda’s two cardinal aims are the complete elimination of disease and dysfunction of the body and secondly, the prolongation of life and promotion of perfect health.

In order to do this, Ayurveda considers the general life pattern of the individual, including his diet, behavior and health and profession. But before we go into all that, the question may be asked why anyone would want to go for this ancient system of medicine anyway. What is the attraction of such a system over the modern, generally more accepted scientific treatment of diabetes today? Well the reason is not far to seek.

First, diabetes as generally been regarded as a disease that cannot be cured, only managed. This management basically involves the subject keeping his fasting blood sugar level within a medically determine or advised range (between 70 and 100 milligrams per deciliter or mg/dL). Where he is able to do this, in most cases he will stop experiencing many of the symptoms of the disease and its associated complications.

To many people, this is not a cure in the true sense of the word because the individual will still be restricted to a high in fiber, low in carbohydrate, low in fat, non-smoking, none or limited alcohol intake diet as well as a continued regime of exercise and blood sugar control.

If we are to follow this reasoning, then it can be said that any “cure” which does not either rejuvenate the Beta cells (the insulin producing cells of the pancreas) as would be necessary in the case of a cure for Type 1 or help overcome the insulin resistance of the body as in the case of a cure for Type 2, cannot really be said to be one. While stem cell research- whether through the undifferentiated embryonic stem cells or (induced pluripotent) stem cells of today, brings us hope for a cure in the case of type 1, type 2 treatment still remains relatively a case of management.

Moreover, modern medical approach to treating or managing Type 2 diabetes takes dedication and discipline. In addition to that, medicine used may have side effects. For example the use of the drug metformin has been known to cause heart attacks. Again the use of insulin for the treatment of diabetes needs to be well regulated and timed so as not to inadvertently induce hypoglycemia or the obverse hyperglycemia.

Now if one is to be sincere in one’s analysis, we can equally say that the ayurvedic method for the treatment of diabetes is arguably also a management one. However, the ace it perhaps holds over the modern approach is that since it is both preventive and holistic in its medical approach to the treatment of the body, it does not hold the risk of complications associated with pharmaceutical treatments.

Further, it has been scientifically ascertained that while some herbs used in ayurvedic treatment actually stimulate Beta cell production others encourage the sensitivity of the body to insulin. This then arguably constitutes a most viable alternative treatment choice for diabetes.

In classic ayurveda, diabetes was given the name Prameha which means excessive urination. It was also known as Madhumeha which is interpreted as flow of sugar from the body. Again, it was equally called Maharoga (Major disease) as almost all parts of the body is affected by it. According to Ayurveda, prameha (diabetes) is divided into 4 major types (and total 21 types). Kapha type, itself divided into 10 types, Pitta type, divided into 6 types, Vata type, divided into 4 types and sahaja which corresponds to Type 1 diabetes.

The main causes of prameha (diabetes) is said to be lack of exercise and the eating of food containing too much ushna, snigha and guru nature. Although it is also recognized that Sahaja diabetes is hereditary and caused by defects in the genetics of the patients parents.

In Ayurveda, diabetes is classified in several ways; first into the two categories of the lean diabetic and the obese diabetic. The second classification is according to causes of diabetes- Sahaja prameha (congenital) and Apathyanimittaja prameha (due to over eating and poor habits) and finally classification according to Dosha. The first two are clear. What however is Dosha?

To understand what Dosha is and indeed how Ayurvedic treatment works, we first have to understand the philosophy or “science” behind the ayuveda treatment of diabetes.

First, Ayurveda stipulates that the entire physical structure and function of man is premised on the combination of any 2 of the 5 great elements (Bhuttas). This combination will predominate and as such will determine your nature. It is this nature that is known as Dosha. Going further these combinations are categorized into Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Vata is to do with movement, Kapha, the functions of metabolism, energy production and heat while Kapha concerns itself with physical structure and fluid balance.

The Ayurvedic view is that disease is caused by an imbalance in these qualities (Vikruiti). Treatment of Type 2 diabetes like all diseases in this system therefore requires a restoration of balance (Prakruti) by detoxifying the body of the causative toxins blocking circulation and causing the dosha imbalance and also the normal function of dhatu (tissue).

Ayurvedic treatment is remarkably modern in its approach to treating diabetes. For as a doctor may reflect on the risk factors in a patient when performing diagnoses and making recommendations, Ayurveda treatments equally consider family history (in other words genetic predispositions), sex, age, body constitution (body mass index consideration), stage of the disease, diet, etc. This means that treatment will be tailored to the specific needs of each individual and that more often than not, treatment, particularly dosage will differ from patient to patient even when they suffer from the same disease and symptoms.

The foundation step in a diagnoses which can last for up to an hour will therefore be to find a person’s (dosha), I.e Vatta, Pitta or Kapha. Once found, the imbalance in the dosha is elicited by asking several questions on his or her food habits, sleeping patterns, behavior, age, height and weight, place of life, profession, medical reports, health problems, etc.

By knowing the dosha, the health consultant will be able to assess dosha attributes of the patient that are out of balance and prescribe the changes required to rebalance them. In doing this, the health consultant will make use of pulse, tongue, nail and eye examinations. The health of several organs as well as the psychological state of the individual can be derived from this study and the observation and documentation of this will assist the Health consultant in treating the disease. Incidentally, it should be noted that Ayuverdic diagnosis does not preclude complimentary diagnosis via laboratory and clinical tests.

So then, once a diagnosis of diabetes has been made, how does the ayurvedic practitioner treat it? Remarkably again (the first two approach at least) bears similarity to western practice for diabetes treatment. Thus, first, if the doshas are only slightly imbalanced, then increased activity and restriction of diet is sufficient remedy.

The administration of medicine (herbs) will be called for where the doshas are moderately imbalanced. This will serve to neutralize the imbalanced dosha and along with dietary restriction and increased exercise will serve as sufficient remedy. Where the doshas are greatly imbalanced however, then in addition to diet restriction, exercise and medicines, then Panchakarma (five actions of detoxification) will have to be administered. However, Panchakarma is more appropriate for the stout or obese diabetic not the lean one who showing excessive vata dosha should focus more on medications and diet which will increase the dhatus (rebuilding or tonification of the body).

In summary therefore, it can be said that Ayurveda practice consists of four basic nodes, namely reduction (through exercise), detoxification, nourishing and tonification (through diet) and balancing (through all three). Several agents are used in calibrated amounts to achieve this. They are namely food, exercise, routine and herbs. We shall be looking at the role each of these play in our next article.