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Diabetes, especially type 2 diabetes, is a lifestyle disorder with roots in metabolic dysfunction. In other words, for a majority of the patients, diabetes manifests when pancreatic release of insulin hormone has been on overdrive due to irregular eating habits, chronic stress build up, and a lifestyle that is not in tune with nature. Over time, these factors impair insulin’s function, which is to control the metabolism of sugar or glucose to produce energy for body cells. Today, the single biggest reason why people are flocking to complementary and alternative treatments for managing diabetes mellitus, apart from the economic costs, is that it is difficult to bring blood sugar levels down by medication alone without taking a holistic approach to the treatment and prevention of the disease from its root. People are not keen on popping pills endlessly because of the proven long-term effects of these drugs on one’s body and mind.
From ketogenic dieters to vegans to paleo-lovers, and high-intensity interval trainers to 8-minute abs-lovers to pilates, people take up various dietary and exercise regimes to maintain health and manage illnesses. But a disease like diabetes cannot be successfully managed by focusing on components of health—like diet or medication or exercise—in isolation. The 5000-year-old science of healing, Ayurveda, provides insight into what’s best for each individual based on his/her unique bodily constitution (Prakruti) which is why it’s popular as a go-to for preventing and managing diabetes.
Here, we take a look at some of the popular alternative Ayurvedic therapies prescribed in the ancient classical texts of Ayurveda for the management of diabetes.
Yoga is a holistic science of healing and wellness. Regular practice of yoga will not just help reduce oxidative stress, one of the largest killers in the modern times, or lower your blood sugar and other anthropometric indices, but also produce a sense of overall well-being. About 14.3% American adults today practice yoga. According to a study done at the Universite de la Mediterranee in France, participants showed a significant increase in exhalation duration and a modest increase in tidal volume after practicing yoga and deep breathing tools. This led to better cellular metabolism, a function that is impaired in diabetic patients due to insufficient release of insulin.
How is yoga able to help diabetes?
- Yoga simply helps achieve the major goals of diabetes management including
- Improves glycemic control or reduction of blood glucose levels
- Reduces the risk of microvascular complications
- Reduces risk factors for cardiovascular diseases in patients of DM2
- Reduces DM-related distress
- Mitigates signs of depression
- Enhances emotional well-being and quality of life—factors that directly influence glycemic control.
We’ve designed a special yoga sequence to bring more energy to the pancreatic area to help cleanse, activate, and tone up the internal organs.
On a spiritual level, meditation can bring you peace, love, and joy, and on a more physical level, meditation can reduce chronic stress, one of the biggest lifestyle triggers that aggravates blood sugar levels. With sustained practice of meditation, patients have reported
- Reduction in oxidative stress (up to 20%)
- Reduction in total cholesterol and
- Reduction in fasting glucose level
- Better cellular metabolism
- Reduction in production of stress hormones like cortisol
- Longer resting periods when the parasympathetic nervous system gets switched on-an autonomic balance in favor of diabetic control
- Lowered insulin resistance
- Better sleep
- Improved memory and attention
How to Meditate
While we could ask you to close your eyes, observe your breath and think happy thoughts, the truth is, the mind cannot be controlled from that level of the mind. The more you ask yourself to not think, the more thoughts come rushing in. An effortless segue into a blissful meditative state is the practice of Sudarshan Kriya Yoga(SKY).
How does SKY meditation work?
SKY involves deep breathing practices like Ujjai (warrior breath) breath, pranayamas followed by the popular Sudarshan Kriya–a cyclical breathing technique cognized by Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. The practice is concluded with an effortless meditative state where practitioners report clarity of mind, prolonged moments of thoughtlessness, steadier heart rate, and calmness of being. Sudarshan Kriya uses specific cyclical, rhythmic patterns of breath to bring the mind and body into a relaxed yet wakeful state. Here are a few tips to prepare you to go into meditation.
Chronic Stress Reduction
Our body has an in built stress response to external triggers of stress that involves a series of chemical reactions. These triggers could be difficulties at work, relationship or family issues or any other demanding situation. Now this response system is a normal defense mechanism of the body expressed in the form of hormonal releases and numerous biochemical reactions. But sustained release of these hormones under chronic stress is linked to higher risks of diseases like heart disease, diabetes, stroke, or angina. These stress hormones also cause blood pressure, blood sugar, and heart rate to rise.
Some of the symptoms of chronic stress may include
- Lack of focus
- Digestive problems
- Lack of clear thinking
- Improper sleep
- Lack of appetite
- Low self esteem
What is Stress?
Spiritual master and founder of the International Association For Human Values, Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar shares an effective coping strategy. He defines stress as when there is, “lot of work to do, less time to do the work, and low levels of energy.” We seldom have control on the amount of work we are given to do or the time we have on our hands to do it, but if we can increase our energy levels or Prana or Chi, then we can handle stressful situations with far more ease. Prana can be increased through
- Proper sleep
- Proper food
- Breath work
Share with Friends
It helps to share your thoughts and speak with close friends and families when you feel you may be undergoing symptoms of chronic stress before it gets out of hand. It is strongly recommended to seek help in such situations.
Now there is sufficient body of research that favors meditation as a tool for reducing anxiety, depression and chronic stress.
Make sure you get 7–8 hours of sleep every night. Get into the habit of sleeping at the same time every night to set your body clock accordingly.
Ama Pachan with Khichdi
A big difference between the Ayurvedic approach and the Western approach is that Ayurveda aims to eliminate the illness before it has fully manifest in the body instead of treating the symptoms of the illness. One way Ayurveda does this is by eliminating Ama, or deep toxins which accumulate in the body and lead to illnesses manifesting in the body over time. According to Ayurveda, Ama build up in the body can block pancreatic function and increased insulin resistance in the body.
Ayurveda recommends holistic management of an illness in the form of Panchakarma—a full-body treatment that addresses the doshic imbalances and detoxifies and rejuvenates the system. It includes a routine with yoga, meditation, oleation, herbal medication, herbal massages, and a diet to support the detoxification process—all tailored to every individual’s doshic constitution, imbalances, and needs.
One of the ways to lower Ama built up in the body is Aama Pachan or digesting the ama and assimilating it in the body with the help of digestive foods like specific herbs and khichdi (A very light non-spicy Indian preparation consisting of boiled lentils and rice).
Langhana with Herbs
According to Ayurveda, type 2 diabetes is caused by excess Kapha Dosha (the element representing earth and water in the body). Langhana refers to any therapy or treatment that brings about lightness and gets rid of heaviness in the body. Langhana is administered when the heaviness is caused by a debilitated Kapha Dosha.
Langhana includes four types of Panchkarma therapies like vamana (induced vomiting), virechana (purgation), niruha basti (medicated enemas of decoctions or oils) and nasya (nasal medication).
The herbs used for Langhana include
- Guduchi or Giloi or Amrut
- Musta or Nut grass
- Triphala (three fruits or myrobylans)
- Takrarishta (an Ayurvedic formulation containing multiple herbs)
- Vidanga or false black pepper
- Shunti or ginger
- Kshara or alkali
- Lauha bhasma or Calx of iron
- Yava Churna or barley powder
- Adhaki or pigeon pea, among other herbs.
(Ingesting ghee or clarified butter or triphala oil)
Snehana is one of the main Shodhan or internal detoxification therapies prescribed in Ayurveda. In Sanskrit, Snehana means to oil or smooth it out, and Sneh Dravya refers to lipid or essence in Ayurveda. This therapy softens, soothes, and prepares the body for the removal of metabolic waste. A type of Snehana is Snehapana, which means internal administration of lipid. The lipid or Sneh dravya can be an oil or ghee, or fats.
Some of the benefits of Snehapana include
- Better digestion
- Smooth alimentary tracts
- Good skin
- Slows down aging.
Diabetes and Weight Loss Wellness Retreat & Program
Once the body is prepared through preliminary therapies, laxative herbs are administered for cleansing the digestive tract.
To maintain the healthy state of the body, very specific diet, lifestyle regime, and rejuvenating herbs are given. Following the paschatkarma or post cleanse is essential to ensure that the state can be maintained well and the impact of Panchkarma sustains.
Part of Paschatkarma is the Samsarjana karma, which is the process of slowly making the transition from specialized diet to regular diet, based on the digestibility of the food. The patient’s diet chart changes from light liquid diet to incrementally thicker soups and juices and eventually grains are introduced.
Herbs that Help Manage Diabetes
In managing diabetes, research has shown herbs can provide symptomatic relief, prevent secondary complications, help regeneration of beta cells to overcome insulin resistance. Herbs and plant foods are not just rich sources of antioxidants, but they also keep cholesterol and blood sugar levels in control. In modern medicine, a drug can either lower blood sugar or manage liver glycogen level, but not do both. But some studies have shown herbal extracts to have successfully achieved these dual results.
Studies have confirmed the anti-diabetic effects of fenugreek which is rich in alkaloids like gonelline, nicotinic acid, and coumarin.
Researched benefits of fenugreek include
- Glucose and lipid lowering effects
- Rich in fiber that has anti-diabetic benefits
- 15g of fenugreek soaked in water showed significant reduction in postprandial glucose levels.
Triphala (three fruit combo) is a popular Ayurvedic formulation that consists of extracts of three power fruits—Indian gooseberry (Amalaki), Beleric ( Bibhitaki) and Black Myrobalan whole (Haritaki), all rich in antioxidants.
Indian gooseberries are good coolants that reduce Pitta dosha and work on the liver and immune system, while Beleric manages kapha and improves respiration. Haritaki is an effective detox agent and balances all the three doshas.
A cumulative study in 2013 showed curcumin present in turmeric can decrease and stabilize glucose levels in the blood. Researchers also found curcumin particularly helpful in diabetes prevention.
Moringa oleifera may help lower blood sugar levels. One study shows, taking 1.5 teaspoons (7 grams) of moringa leaf powder every day for three months reduced fasting blood sugar levels by 13.5%, on average.
Another study found that adding 50 grams of moringa leaves to a meal reduced the rise in blood sugar by 21%.
Scientists believe these effects are caused due to the presence of plant compounds such as isothiocyanates.
The tropical fruit contains no sucrose and is known for its hypoglycemic effect. The seed of Jamun also helps control blood sugar levels. It contains jamboline which stops conversion of starch into sugar subsequently controlling the blood sugar.
Amruth (heart-leaved moonseed) or Giloy can be given to people with any or all of the Doshic imbalances. For some it works as a detox herb and for some it is a rejuvenating herb. Some of its benefits include
- Builds immunity
- Enhanced memory
- Keeps infections at bay
- Helpful in managing diabetic symptoms
- Removes worms.
Marma is an important therapy in Ayurveda which focuses on cleansing and unclogging the body on the level of energies by healing some important junctures in the body where tissues or muscles or joints meet. There are 107 points, or doorways, into the body and consciousness according to marma science. The mind is the 108th marma. The main marma points correspond to the seven chakras, or energy centers of the body. The other points radiate out along the torso and limbs. Sushruta Samhita, classical text in Ayurveda, maps out these points in great detail.
Quinoa Veggie Salad
Quinoa is a gluten free grain, which makes it ideal for diabetics. This healthy salad can be enjoyed as a main course or a side dish.
½ cup Quinoa
1 cup Water
1 large head of Lettuce, chopped
2 cups Arugula
1 cup Cucumber, diced
1 Medium Tomato, diced
1 Apple, chopped
¼ cup Feta cheese
2 tbs lemon juice
1 tbs Vinegar
2 tbs Olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp white pepper
1/4 tsp mustard powder (optional)
Pinch of oregano to sprinkle
- Cook quinoa in a pan with 1 cup boiling water for 10–15 minutes until it’s al dente. Strain any excess water and allow it to cool.
- Mix all the ingredients for the dressing together.
- In a bowl, mix the tomatoes, lettuce, Arugula, cucumber, apple, and cooked quinoa. Pour on dressing and mix well.
- Sprinkle with feta and oregano before serving.
Serves approximately 4 people.
The largest contributor to diabetes among Americans is obesity, with a 39.8% prevalence affecting 93.3 million people, according to CDC data from 2016. To fight this menace, and with very little time to spare on a daily basis, many have taken to intermittent fasting to manage weight.
Intermittent Fasting involves fasting for 14–16 hours. Meals must be had in an 8–10 hour window, anytime of the day. It has its roots in the ancient system wherein people used to eat only twice a day, one after the sunrise and one before sunset. It is believed that our body has a higher digestive capacity and pitta dosha becomes active after sunrise.
Intermittent Fasting is based on the concept of autophagy—a process where the body, when starved for a long period, starts metabolizing its own cells faster and cleanses the worn-out cells. Eating between 12:00–8:00 pm is considered to be the most ideal window when following Intermittent Fasting.
Tips for Fasting Better
- Consult an Ayurveda doctor about your Prakruti and dosha imbalances before undertaking a fast. Ayurveda experts can tell you about your dosha constitution and if fasting is good for you by examining the pulse through Nadi Pariksha or pulse diagnosis.
- Drink lemon/ginger water, buttermilk, tea without sugar during the course of the day.
- Last meal should not be later than 8:00 pm, and should be light, preferably low-carb
- Avoid fried foods when breaking your day-long fast.
- Break the fast by consuming dates, salads, or less sugary fruits.
- Regulate the intake of salt and sugar during fasting days. Not doing so can increase water retention.
- Avoid sweet, pulpy fruits
- For best results, fast for a minimum of 2–3 consecutive days.
- It is important to sleep well on days of fasting.
Benefits of Fasting
- It helps in burning ama or toxins from the body.
- It strengthens the digestive and the immune system.
- It boosts jatharagini—digestive fire—which speeds up metabolism in the body.
- Aids in weight loss.
- Helps attain mental clarity and heightened awareness; one tends to feel less bloated and is more attentive.
- Controls blood pressure.
- Reduces insulin resistance and controls blood sugar.
- Helps fight inflammation in the body.
- Enhances heart health by regulating triglycerides and cholesterol levels.
- Boosts brain function.
- Increases growth hormone secretion.
- Delays aging.
- Helps in improving the overall glow on the face. Supplementing fasting with eight to ten glasses of water makes the skin vibrant.
These Ayurvedic therapies strongly complement conventional treatments in managing diabetes by minimizing the detrimental effects of environmental and lifestyle triggers. Though there are thousands of case studies where people have reportedly gotten off medications after making necessary lifestyle changes and taking natural alternative treatments, we do not endorse using complementary and alternative therapies as a replacement for conventional medication.