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Diabetes mellitus is a condition in which the pancreas no longer produces enough insulin or when cells stop responding to the insulin that is produced, so that glucose in the blood cannot be absorbed into the cells of the body. Symptoms include frequent urination, tiredness, excessive thirst, and hunger.

It is a chronic disease that causes serious health complications including renal (kidney) failure, heart disease, stroke, and blindness.

Excessive thirst
Increased appetite
Increased urination
Weight loss
Blurred vision
Frequent vaginal infections in women
Impotence in men
Frequent yeast infections


Every cell in the human body needs energy in order to function. The body's primary energy source is glucose, a simple sugar resulting from the digestion of foods containing carbohydrates (sugars and starches). Glucose from the digested food circulates in the blood as a ready energy source for cells. Insulin is a hormone or chemical produced by cells in the pancreas, an organ located behind the stomach. Insulin binds to receptor sites on the outside of cells and acts like a key to open a door-way.


Every cell in the human body needs energy in order to function. The body's primary energy source is glucose, a simple sugar resulting from the digestion of foods containing carbohydrates (sugars and starches). Glucose from the digested food circulates in the blood as a ready energy source for cells. Insulin is a hormone or chemical produced by cells in the pancreas, an organ located behind the stomach. Insulin binds to receptor sites on the outside of cells and acts like a key to open a door-way into the cell through which glucose can enter. Some of the glucose can be converted to concentrated energy sources like glycogen or fatty acids and saved for later use. When there is not enough insulin produced or when the doorway no longer recognizes the insulin key, glucose stays in the blood instead of entering the cells.

The body will attempt to dilute the high level of glucose in the blood, a condition called hyperglycaemia, by drawing water out of the cells and into the bloodstream. The excess sugar is excreted in the urine. It is not unusual for people with undiagnosed diabetes to be constantly thirsty, to drink large quantities of water, and to urinate frequently as their bodies try to get rid of the extra glucose. This creates high levels of glucose in the urine.

At the same time that the body is trying to get rid of glucose from the blood, the cells are starving for glucose and sending signals to the body to eat more food, thus making patients extremely hungry. To provide energy for the starving cells, the body also tries to convert fats and proteins to glucose. The breakdown of fats and proteins for energy causes acid compounds called ketones to form in the blood. Ketones also will be excreted in the urine. As ketones build up in the blood, a condition called ketoacidosis can occur. If left untreated, ketoacidosis can lead to coma and death.

Types of Diabetes Mellitus

Type I diabetes, sometimes called juvenile diabetes, begins most commonly in childhood or adolescence. In this form of diabetes, the body produces little or no insulin. It is characterized by a sudden onset and occurs more frequently in populations descended from northern European countries (Finland, Scotland, Scandinavia) than in those from southern European countries, the Middle East, or Asia. This form also is called insulin-dependent diabetes because people who develop this type need to have injections of insulin 1-2 times per day.

Brittle diabetics are a subgroup of Type I where patients have frequent and rapid swings of blood sugar levels between hyperglycaemia (a condition where there is too much glucose or sugar in the blood) and hypoglycaemia (a condition where there are abnormally low levels of glucose or sugar in the blood). These patients may require several injections of different types of insulin or an insulin pump during the day to keep their blood sugar within a fairly normal range.

The more common form of diabetes, Type II, age-onset or adult-onset diabetes, occurs most often in people who are overweight and do not exercise. This is considered a milder form of diabetes because of its slow onset (sometimes developing over the course of several years) and because it can usually be controlled with diet and oral medication. The consequences of uncontrolled and untreated Type II diabetes, however, are just as serious as those for Type I. This form also is called noninsulin-dependent diabetes, a term that is somewhat misleading. Many people with Type II diabetes can control the condition with diet and oral medications but insulin injections sometimes are necessary.

Another form of diabetes, called gestational diabetes, can develop during pregnancy and generally resolves after the baby is delivered. This diabetic condition develops during the second or third trimester of pregnancy in about 2% of pregnancies. The condition is usually is treated by diet but insulin injections may be required. Women who have diabetes during pregnancy are at higher risk for developing Type II diabetes within 5-10 years.

Diabetes also can develop as a result of pancreatic disease, alcoholism, malnutrition or other severe illnesses that stress the body.


There is currently no cure for diabetes. Diet, exercise, and careful monitoring of blood glucose levels are the keys to managing diabetes so that patients can live a relatively normal life. Diabetes can be life-threatening if not properly managed, so patients should not attempt to treat this condition without medical supervision. Treatment of diabetes focuses on two goals: keeping blood glucose within normal range and preventing the development of long-term complications. Alternative treatments cannot replace the need for insulin but they may enhance insulin's effectiveness and lower blood glucose levels. In addition, alternative medicines may help to treat complications of the disease and improve quality of life.


Diet and moderate exercise are the first treatments implemented in diabetes. For many Type II diabetics, weight loss may be an important goal to help them to control their diabetes. A well-balanced, nutritious diet provides approximately 50-60% of calories from carbohydrates, approximately 10-20% of calories from protein, and less than 30% of calories from fat. The number of calories required depends on the patient's age, weight, and activity level. The calorie intake also needs to be distributed over the course of the entire day so surges of glucose entering the blood system are kept to a minimum. In 2002, a Korean study demonstrated that eating a combination of whole grains and legume powder was beneficial in lowering blood glucose levels in men with diabetes.

Keeping track of the number of calories provided by different foods can be complicated, so patients are usually advised to consult a nutritionist or dietitian. An individualised, easy-to-manage diet plan can be set up for each patient.


CHROMIUM PICOLINATE. Several studies have had conflicting results on the effectiveness of chromium picolinate supplementation for control of blood glucose levels. In one study, approximately 70% of the diabetics receiving 200 micrograms of chromium picolinate daily reduced their need for insulin and medications. While some studies have shown that supplementation caused significant weight loss, and decreases in blood glucose and serum triglycerides, others have shown no benefit. Chromium supplementation may cause hypoglycaemia and other side-effects.

MAGNESIUM. Magnesium deficiency may interfere with insulin secretion and uptake and worsen the patient's control of blood sugar. Also, magnesium deficiency puts diabetics at risk of certain complications, especially retinopathy and cardiovascular disease.

VANADIUM. Vanadium has been shown to bring blood glucose to normal levels in diabetic animals. Also, people who took vanadium were able to decrease their need for insulin.

Chinese Medicine

Non-insulin dependent diabetics who practiced daily qigong for one year had decreases in fasting blood glucose and blood insulin levels. Acupuncture may relieve pain in patients with diabetic neuropathy. Acupuncture also may help to bring blood glucose to normal levels in diabetics who do not require insulin.

Best when used in consultation with a Chinese medicine physician, some Chinese patent medicines that alleviate symptoms of or complications from diabetes include:

* Xiao Ke Wan (Emaciation and Thirst Pill) for diabetics with increased levels of sugar in blood and urine.
* Yu Quan Wan (Jade Spring Pill) for diabetics with a deficiency of Yin.
* Liu Wei Di Huang Wan (Six Ingredient Pill with Rehmannia) for stabilized diabetics with a deficiency of Kidney Yin.
* Jin Gui Shen Wan (Kidney Qi Pill) for stabilized diabetics with a deficiency of Kidney Yang.


Herbal medicine can have a positive effect on blood glucose and quality of life in diabetics. The results of clinical study of various herbals are:

* Wormwood (Artemisia herba-alba) decreased blood glucose.
* Gurmar (Gymnema sylvestre) decreased blood glucose levels and the need for insulin.
* Coccinia indica improved glucose tolerance.
* Fenugreek seed powder (Trigonella foenum graecum) decreased blood glucose and improved glucose tolerance.
* Bitter melon (Momordica charantia) decreased blood glucose and improved glucose tolerance.
* Cayenne pepper (Capsicum frutescens) can help relieve pain in the peripheral nerves (a type of diabetic neuropathy).

Other herbals that may treat or prevent diabetes and its complications include:

* Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) may lower blood glucose levels and maintain healthy blood vessels.
* Garlic (Allium sativum) may lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
* Onions (Allium cepa) may help lower blood glucose levels.
* Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) improves blood circulation.

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