Do you or anybody you know have diabetes or prediabetes? If so, that’s no surprise; as of 2017, 100 million Americans were living with prediabetes or diabetes, which has been shown to lead to life-threatening conditions. Unfortunately, diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States, claiming over 80,000 American lives in 2017 alone.
On top of these staggering statistics, one out of every three Americans has prediabetes, a condition that typically develops into type 2 diabetes within five years and increases the patient’s risk for deadly complications such as heart attacks and strokes. As the diabetes epidemic continues to grow, it’s important to understand what diabetes is, how it’s caused, and how it can be treated.
Although the current statistics are quite troubling, Ayurveda, India’s ancient system of medicine, is proven to be an excellent tool for managing the condition. Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about diabetes, and how Ayurveda can help you and your loved ones manage—or even overcome—this condition.
What is Diabetes?
The food we eat gives our bodies our main source of energy: glucose. After glucose enters our blood, a hormone made by the pancreas called insulin helps our cells break it down into usable energy.
Sometimes our bodies don’t produce enough insulin or are unable to make proper use of it. When this occurs, blood glucose becomes too high, resulting in a disease called diabetes. This condition comes in three main forms: type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, and gestational diabetes.
Although preventing type 1 diabetes is considered impossible from a Western point of view, when it comes to type 2 diabetes, most people first develop prediabetes, a condition that is reversible. Over 84 million American adults currently suffer from prediabetes.
One major risk factor all types of diabetes share is a family history of the disease.
Family History of Diabetes
Having a family history makes an individual far more susceptible to prediabetes, gestational diabetes (GDM), and type 1 and 2 diabetes. Understanding your risk based on your genetic heritage and family history can help you detect the disease earlier and even avoid it altogether.
When it comes to preventing type 2 diabetes, ask yourself these questions about family-related risk factors:
Does anyone in your immediate family have type 2 diabetes?
Has anyone in the family been told they might get diabetes?
Has anyone in the family been told they need to lower their weight or increase their physical activity to prevent type 2 diabetes?
Did your mother experience GDM when she was pregnant?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are at a greater risk than average for developing type 2 diabetes. As such, it’s important that you pay attention to the risk factors and symptoms mentioned below; however, you should start taking preventative measures even if you don’t yet have any signs or symptoms, as you may be unknowingly heading down the road toward prediabetes.
Before many are diagnosed with prediabetes, they experience a condition known as metabolic syndrome.
Metabolic syndrome refers to a number of conditions that occur together, all of which increase your risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. These conditions include
Increased blood pressure
High blood sugar
Excess body fat around the waist
Abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels.
Just one of these conditions can increase your risk of serious, life-threatening complications, but having more than one increases your risk even greater. If you have at least one of these conditions, ask your doctor about metabolic syndrome as soon as you can.
Some causes of metabolic syndrome include being overweight or obese and having insulin resistance, but there are many risk factors. One important risk factor is age—the older you are, the more at-risk you are of developing metabolic syndrome. Another risk factor is ethnicity. In the United States, people of Hispanic descent, especially Hispanic women, are the most prone to developing this disease.
You are also more likely to experience metabolic syndrome if you have a family history of diabetes, had GDM during pregnancy, or have ever had diseases such as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, polycystic ovary syndrome, or sleep apnea.
If left untreated, this condition can lead to prediabetes, and eventually to type 2 diabetes.
Prediabetes is a condition that occurs when blood glucose levels are higher than normal, yet still not as high as those with diabetes. At this point, an individual is on the way to developing type 2 diabetes, but still has time to turn their health around.
In addition to these, certain ethnicities also have a higher risk of developing prediabetes. These include African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, American Indians, Pacific Islanders, and some Asian Americans.
If you think you might be prediabetic, talk to your doctor about a simple blood test. These tests are accurate diagnostic tools that will guide you to begin your healing journey, if necessary.
From an Ayurvedic perspective, prediabetes is caused by an imbalance of agni, or digestive fire. Agni imbalances occur due to eating the wrong foods and living an unbalanced life.
If this condition goes unchecked, most patients develop type 2 diabetes within five years.
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. Anybody can develop type 2 diabetes, even children. However, it typically affects those who are middle-aged or older.
This condition occurs when the body stops making or using insulin effectively, causing your blood glucose levels to rise too high. The risk factors for this condition are the same as those for prediabetes. However, the risk factors, symptoms, and outcomes do vary slightly between men and women. It’s important to understand how your gender experiences diabetes.
Patches of darker skin on areas of the body that have creases
These symptoms develop slowly, over the course of many years. Some people either never notice them or don’t experience any symptoms at all. The good news is that if you do catch it early, type 2 diabetes is reversible to some degree. From Western perspective, the same can not be said yet for type 1 diabetes. Thankfully, Ayurveda offers a more optimistic outlook.
Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes occurs due to an autoimmune condition where the immune system destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, thus causing blood glucose levels to rise. Typically, this condition occurs in individuals under the age of 20, but it can occur at any age. Around five percent of people with diabetes have type 1 diabetes. This condition affects men and women equally and is more prevalent in white people than in African Americans. Unfortunately, doctors still don’t understand all the factors that lead to this form of diabetes, but it is clear that genes play a role. It can also be caused by certain viruses.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), symptoms of type 1 diabetes include
Shaking and confusion
Very dry skin
Sores that heal slowly
Having more infections than usual
Unexplained weight loss
Increased hunger (especially after eating)
Western medicine manages type 1 diabetes by keeping the blood sugar within a certain range through monitoring food intake, insulin, and activity. Insulin is injected into the body two to four times per day in order to maintain a state of health.
Gestational Diabetes (GDM)
Gestational diabetes occurs when blood sugar levels are too high during pregnancy. Typically, GDM goes away after childbirth, but it does increase the chances of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
Most women don’t experience any symptoms and only learn about their condition through regular screening tests between weeks 24 and 28 of pregnancy. Those who do experience symptoms report feeling the need to eat more, drink more, and urinate more.
Each year, between 2% and 10% of pregnant women experience gestational diabetes. According to the CDC, women are more likely to experience this complication if they
Are older than 25
Were overweight before becoming pregnant
Are African-American, Asian, Hispanic, or Native American
Have a family history of type 2 diabetes
Have had gestational diabetes during previous pregnancies
Have high blood pressure or other medical complications
Have given birth to a baby who weighed over nine pounds.
Have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
To prevent gestational diabetes, Western medicinerecommends that before getting pregnant you lose weight if you’re overweight, eat a healthier diet, and exercise regularly. From a Western point of view, treatment includes monitoring blood sugar levels, conducting urine tests, eating a healthy diet, and making exercise a habit. Ayurveda, however, takes things a step further and recommends the in-depth detoxification process of Panchakarma. Ayurvedic treatment options are covered in greater detail below.
Complications specifically related to gestational diabetes include
Having a higher chance of c-section delivery
Having high blood pressure
Having diabetes in a future pregnancy
Developing Diabetes in life
Giving birth to a child with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life
Giving birth early
Having a child with low blood sugar.
Due to these serious, and sometimes deadly, complications, it’s paramount that those with diabetes seek effective treatment as soon as possible.
While most of us naturally assume that Western medicine represents the peak of human advancements in health care, in reality, there are other options that can sometimes be more effective.
For example, although Western medicine thrives when it comes to curing or relieving the symptoms of diseases through pharmaceutical drugs and surgeries, it falters when it comes to preventing illnesses in the first place.
Even though the idea that lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise can keep one healthy became popular in recent decades, many people are still confused when it comes to what to eat, how to exercise, and how to live in order to be healthy. Adding to the confusion is also how the definition of health has changes from individual to individual. From ketogenic dieters to vegans to paleo-lovers, and high-intensity interval trainers to 8-minute abs-lovers to pilates-followers, many health pundits promise to bring well-being to every subscriber of their unique systems. Although these diets, lifestyles, and exercise regiments may have some benefits, Ayurveda provides insight to what’s best for each individual on a case by case basis, which is why Ayurveda is growing in popularity. Individuals are seeing positive changes in their overall health when they were unsuccessful with other regiments.
Get Personalized Treatment with Ayurveda
The fact that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to preventative health has been understood for over 7,000 years by India’s ancient system of healthcare known as Ayurveda. From an Ayurvedic point of view, every individual has a unique physical constitution that is comprised of a mixture of three key building blocks, known as doshas. The three doshas are vata, pitta, and kapha.
If one of these doshas become imbalanced in our body, we fall into a state of disease. For that reason, Ayurvedic doctors analyze each patient’s body type and determine the imbalances that they are prone to. After that, the physician provides the patient with lifestyle routines tailored uniquely to them in order to bring about a state of balance. These routines include everything—sleep, diet, herbs, exercise, cleansing and stress reduction techniques.
Because treating diabetes relies so heavily on lifestyle factors, Ayurveda’s holistic approach, which includes superior lifestyle recommendations in comparison to Western medicine, makes it ideal for preventing, and even reversing the condition.
Ayurveda + Diabetes
From an Ayurvedic perspective, diabetes is typically caused by an excess of kapha dosha. Kapha is made up of the elements earth and water—its qualities are heavy, slow, steady, solid, cold, soft, and oily. An excess of kapha leads to a sedentary lifestyle, weight gain, and eventually, possibly diabetes. For that reason, when treating type 2 diabetes with Ayurveda, bringing kapha dosha into balance is the primary concern.
Ayurveda’s thousands of years of accumulated knowledge offer us all of the tools we need to reinstate this balance in order to help us return to an optimal state of health. Below are some key changes to your diet and lifestyle that you can start now. These will invite greater ease, purity, and spiritual health into your life. You will also find important Ayurvedic treatment options for diabetes.
One thing that prevents many people from making the dietary changes necessary to avoid diabetes is the idea that they will be forced to eat bland and unappetizing food for the rest of their lives; forced to look forward to the occasional “cheat day.”
With Ayurveda, nobody is condemned to a boring diet. In fact, the joy of living is always prioritized above all else. For that reason, this system gives great importance to taste, or rasa, in all of its meals, due to the joy, enthusiasm, and therapeutic effects it brings.
When it comes to managing diabetes, it’s not the case that your food will be flavorless, but you may need to start prioritizing different flavors and foods. For example, rather than indulging in sweet, sour, and salty flavors that can promote diabetes, individuals should enjoy bitter, astringent, and pungent flavors. Instead of prioritizing heavy, oily, and cold foods, it’s better for those with diabetes or prediabetes to opt for light, dry, and warm foods.
Some other dietary recommendations for balancing kapha to treat diabetes are to
Drink hot ginger tea with your meals to stimulate digestion
Avoid excessive salt intake
Favor pungent spices such as pepper, mustard seed, ginger, and cayenne
Avoid heavy fruits like bananas, pineapples, and figs
Avoid processed meats
Regularly eating herbs such as turmeric, cinnamon, and fenugreek seeds
Eat foods such as
Legumes (besides soybeans)
Light fruits, such as apples, pears, and pomegranates
Green leafy vegetables
Low-fat dairy products (in moderation)
Neem and curry leaves
Starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes, potatoes, winter squash, green peas, corn, and pumpkin
Non-starchy vegetables such as tomatoes, celery, cucumbers, mushrooms, broccoli, zucchini, and bell peppers
Pungent spices such as pepper, cayenne, mustard seed, and ginger
Grains such as corn, millet, rye, barley, and buckwheat over oats, rice, and wheat.
If changing your diet to fulfill these guidelines sounds like a challenge, don’t worry; there are many easy Ayurvedic recipes for both prediabetes and type 2 diabetes that will make following these guidelines simple and easy.
In addition to cooking tips for diabetes, we also have guides for meal prepping, suggestions for foods to avoid, recommendations for how to eat more mindfullyand practicing intermittent fasting. When eating Ayurvedically it’s important to know about ghee and how you can use it in your healing journey.
In addition to these dietary recommendations, Ayurveda suggests many key lifestyle changes to help patients manage diabetes as well.
From proper hygiene, to regular exercise,and consistent sleeping patterns, treating diabetes involves adopting many important lifestyle adjustments. Here are some important shifts that you can start making now in order to lead a healthier life.
Establish a Yoga Routine
Just like Western medicine, Ayurveda recommends an active lifestyle to anyone who is suffering from diabetes or prediabetes. It is well known that exercise increases insulin sensitivity, allowing our muscles to take in sufficient glucose during and after activity, thus reducing the effect of diabetes.
From an Ayurvedic point of view, yoga is the best form of exercise due to its emphasis on mindfulness, breathing, and gentle movement. Studies have revealed that a regular yoga practice yields significantly lower blood glucose levels both when fasting and after eating. Some other benefits of yoga for those treating diabetes include
Lower drug requirements
Lower incidence of acute complications like infection and ketosis
Ayurveda’s main goal is to lead patients towards holistically healthier lives, which includes improving mental health. This system of medicine stems from the same Vedic tradition that brings us many of the meditation and breathing techniques that are so popular for stress-reduction today. As such, Ayurveda is well equipped to help its patients find inner peace.
Yogic breathing exercises, also called pranayama, have a healing effect on those with diabetes due to their ability to remove stress from the system.
At our diabetes retreat,you’ll have the opportunity to explore both of these powerful tools for improving your mental health as you learn our special system of meditation and yogic breathing, known as the Sudarshan Kriya. Our practice is proven to
Reduce stress levels
Decrease the stress hormone (cortisol) by 50%
Support the immune system
Relieve anxiety and depression
Promote feelings of well-being
Improving physical, psychological, and social health
Improve overall quality of life.
In addition to helping you de-stress and relax, these techniques carry a spiritual dimension with them that will help you find the peace of mind necessary to carry you through your healing journey with ease.
This feeling of inner peace can be further established through regular self-care routines.
Self-Care Routines for Diabetes
Healthy habits that help keep excess kapha at bay can be great aids in diabetes treatment. One great way to take care of yourself in this way is establishing a regular, restorative sleep routine. Ayurvedic medicine recommends going to bed before 10:00 pm every night and waking up before 6:00 am.
Although waking up so early can seem like a challenge, you’ll probably be surprised to find that you feel better rested. This is because between 6:00 am–10:00 pm, kapha predominates in the atmosphere, making us excessively sluggish and groggy for the rest of the day if we’re sleeping at that time.
In addition to an organized sleep schedule, eating at the same time each day is also essential for cleansing kapha. Eating regular meals and avoiding snacking helps to promote strong digestion, which is the key to preventing disease and increasing longevity from an Ayurvedic perspective. To cleanse kapha, eat two to three small meals per day consistently at the same times, and avoid eating after 7:00 pm.
After eating, practicing good oral hygiene is another excellent way to prevent excess kapha buildup because it removes toxins from the body.
One of Ayurveda’s main techniques for maintaining good oral hygiene is tongue scraping. This process removes dead skin and excessive bacteria from the mouth, gently stimulates the internal organs, and enhances the sense of taste, which makes you less prone to overeating.
After establishing strong self-care routines such as these that prevent diabetes from worsening, the treatment modalities that follow will be all the more effective.
Ayurveda’s earliest written reference to diabetes dates back to between 1500 and 1000 BC, so the system has had plenty of time to discover many important complementary and alternative therapies for the treatment of diabetes.
One of the most important treatments prescribed by Ayurveda is a holistic Ayurvedic detox, where your body will be purified of toxins and brought back into a state of balance. One key step in this purification process is taking amapachan with khichdi and langana with herbs to purify your digestive tract and heal your body.
Another important step in restoring proper insulin function in the body is taking snehapana with mahatikta ghrita, which is ghee triphala oil that is medicated with herbs. In addition, ayurvedic practices such as virechana, which cleanses the small intestine, and samsarjana karma, which tests for food allergies, are also used to restore health.
Other key Ayurvedic treatments for diabetes include fasting, Ayurvedic massage, and a treatment therapy called marma. These all work to mobilize toxins and improve energy flow in the body.
Our Sudarshan Kriya program technique should be experienced in order to bolster genetic health and improve the immune system.
These treatment options, preventative measures, and more will be explored during our upcoming, world-class diabetes retreat. We recommend this retreat to anybody who is not only hoping to cure the symptoms of their diabetes but to lead a holistically healthier life as well. If this is a goal of yours, then we hope to see you at our retreat center soon!
It’s important to remember that Ayurvedic treatments are not meant to replace any current treatment plans prescribed by your doctor.
If you would like to learn more about managing diabetes with Ayurveda, we have a Diabetes and Weight Loss Wellness Program and Retreat. During our program and retreat, you will meet individually with both an Ayurvedic doctor and a western medical doctor in order to determine which treatments are right for you. Please don’t try these treatments at home or use them as a replacement for your care. Our trained professionals will give you proper guidance that is tailored exactly to your needs.
Art of Living faculty combine their passion for teaching with years of ongoing practice and volunteering in the service of others. Inspired by their own personal experiences of transformation and joy, teachers around the world (in over 150 countries!) have been sharing Art of Living's signature practices and insights into the human mind for more than 35 years.