Diabetes with Traditional Chinese Medicine

Diabetes with Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) does not really have a concept that corresponds to the modern diagnosis of diabetes. Instead, TCM offers a number of formulas that address combinations of symptoms we would call complications of diabetes. The amazing thing about these four basic herbal formulas, however, is that they all actually treat diabetes. They all help to lower blood sugar levels without changing insulin levels through their action on an enzyme called aldose reductase. And this action also lowers blood pressure.[1]

The four basic formulas that TCM uses to address symptoms of diabetes include:

  • Diao Teng San, which is also known by its Japanese name choto-san, is used for a pattern of “deficiency” symptoms that might include headaches, stiff shoulders, slurred speech, short temper because of an inability to contain emotions, and visual disturbances. Clinical trials have found that this herbal formula is useful in treating vascular dementia. Patients who were given the formula had fewer delusions and hallucinations, slept better, were more able to speak spontaneously, and had fewer issues with putting on and taking off clothes.[2] Another clinical trial found that this combination of herbs is helpful in restoring microcirculation in the brain after stroke.[3] Of course, you don’t have to have had a stroke or have vascular dementia to get lower blood sugars by taking the formula.
  • Bai Wei Di Huang Wan, which is known in Japanese herbal medicine as hachimijio-gan and in patent medicines as Rehmannia 8, is a very basic herbal remedy for diabetes. It’s very extensively studied in laboratory animals but not in clinical trials with people. Although it lowers blood sugar levels by acting on aldose reductase, a closely related formula is much better. Japanese herbalists sometimes modify this formula by adding an herb called achyranthis and psyllium seed (the herb used to make Metamucil) to create a formula they call gosha-jinkigan, or Rehmannia 10. This modification of the formula has been clinically tested and found to lower fasting blood sugars levels and glycosylated hemoglobin (HbA1C), and also to stop the progression of diabetic neuropathy. [4] The 10-herb formula is also helpful in treating dry eyes caused by diabetes.[5]
  • Gui Zhi Jia Shu Fu Tang, a cinnamon-based formula, which is also known by its Japanese name keishikika-jutsubuto, stimulates insulin secretion, at least in laboratory animals.[6]
  • Yi Gan San, which is also known by its Japanese name yokukansan, has been extensively investigated as a treatment for autism, tardive dyskinesia, Lewy body disease, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and social withdrawal disorders.

As a practical matter, if you want to use Chinese herbal medicine on your own to assist with diabetes treatment, you should be using Rehmannia 8 or Rehmannia 10. Both of these formulas are relatively easy to find. They are available in capsules and as teas.

Neither formula substitutes for insulin, and both formulas are more helpful for diabetics who tend to eat too much fat rather than too much sugar. They are not strong enough to be your sole form of treatment. However, you should have fewer high and low blood sugars if you use these formulas, and you may notice that you are calmer, have more control over your appetite, and get better results from your holistic diabetes management plan.

[1] Onoda T, Ishikawa C, Fukazawa T, Li W, Obayashi M, Koike K. Inhibitory activities of selected Kampo formulations on human aldose reductase. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2014 Nov 6;14:435. doi: 10.1186/1472-6882-14-435.

PMID: 25374323.

[2] Terasawa K, Shimada Y, Kita T, Yamamoto T, Tosa H, Tanaka N, Saito Y, Kanaki E, Goto S, Mizushima N, Fujioka M, Takase S, Seki H, Kimura I, Ogawa T, Nakamura S, Araki G, Maruyama I, Maruyama Y, Takaori S. Choto-san in the treatment of vascular dementia: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Phytomedicine. 1997 Mar;4(1):15-22. doi: 10.1016/S0944-7113(97)80022-0. PMID: 23195240.

[3] Goto H, Yang Q, Kita T, Hikiami H, Shimada Y, Terasawa K. Effects of Choto-san on microcirculation, serum nitric oxide and lipid peroxides in patients with asymptomatic cerebral infarction. Am J Chin Med. 2001;29(1):83-9.

PMID: 11321483.

[4] Watanabe K, Shimada A, Miyaki K, Hirakata A, Matsuoka K, Omae K, Takei I. Long-term effects of goshajinkigan in prevention of diabetic complications: a randomized open-labeled clinical trial. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2014;2014:128726. doi: 10.1155/2014/128726. Epub 2014 Apr 9. Erratum in: Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2016;2016:9567408. PMID: 24812564.

[5] Nagaki Y, Hayasaka S, Hayasaka Y, et al. Effects of Goshajinkigan on corneal sensitivity, superficial punctate keratopathy and tear secretion in patients with insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. American Journal of Chinese Medicine. 2003;31(1):103–109.

[6] Qin B, Nagasaki M, Ren M, Bajotto G, Oshida Y, Sato Y. Effects of keishi-ka-jutsubu-to (traditional herbal medicine: Gui-zhi-jia-shu-fu-tang) on in vivo insulin action in streptozotocin-induced diabetic rats.

Life Sci. 2003 Oct 10;73(21):2687-701. PMID: 13679237.