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(8) Diabetes

Non-medical treatments

Recently I saw a physical training expert demonstrating a technique of achieving complete relaxation. She concluded by saying ‘Of course, this is not suitable for everyone, for example people with diabetes’. Is this true and, if so, why?

This sounds like an example of ignorant discrimination. There is no reason why people with diabetes should not practise complete relaxation if they want to. If the session went on for a long time, you might have to miss a snack or even a meal but as you are burning up so little energy in a relaxed state, it should not matter.

My back has troubled me for many years and a friend has suggested that as a last resort I should try acupuncture. Would there be any objection to this, given that I have diabetes? Might it even help my diabetes?

Acupuncture has been a standard form of medical treatment in China for 5000 years. In the last 20 years it has become more widely used in this country. In China acupuncture has always been thought of as a way of preventing disease and is considered less effective in treating illness. In the UK acupuncture tends to be used by people who have been ill (and usually in pain) for a long time. It is most often tried in such conditions as a painful back, where orthodox medicine has failed to help.

Even practitioners of the art do not claim that acupuncture can cure diabetes, but it will not do it any harm either, provided that you do not alter your usual diabetes treatment while you are having your course of acupuncture. If you have neuropathy and have little sensation, it may be sensible to avoid acupuncture in the affected areas.

Do you think that complementary or alternative medicine can help people with diabetes?

Alternative medicine suggests a form of treatment that is taken in the place of conventional medical treatment. As such this could potentially be very dangerous, particularly if your diabetes is treated with insulin.

However, there may be a place for complementary therapies that can be tried alongside conventional medicine. Although there is no scientific evidence to show that complementary therapies such as yoga, reflexology, hypnosis or aromatherapy can benefit someone with diabetes, some people who have tried them report that they feel more relaxed.

As stress can have a detrimental effect on blood glucose control, it may mean that their diabetes improves as a result.

We must emphasize that these therapies should always be used in addition to, not instead of, your usual diabetes treatment. You should not alter your recommended diet or stop taking your tablets or your insulin, nor would a reputable complementary practitioner suggest that you do any of these things.

I have heard that there are herbal remedies for diabetes. What would these be?

There are many plants that have been said to reduce the high level of blood glucose in people with diabetes. One of these is a berry from West Africa and another tropical plant called karela or bitter gourd. The problem is that to get any significant effect you need to consume more karela than is realistic. Consequently, it has only a minimal effect on lowering blood glucose and, as the bitter gourd lives up to its name and tastes disgusting, you will find conventional tablets more convenient, more reliable and safer. Herbal remedies have no effect on diabetes that requires insulin treatment.

I recently read an article on ginseng that said it was beneficial to people with diabetes. Have you any information on this?

Ginseng comes from Korea and the powdered root is said to have amazing properties. There is no scientific evidence to suggest that it is of any help to people with diabetes.

My little girl has just contracted diabetes at the age of 3. I would do anything to cure her. Would hypnosis be worth a try?

Most parents are desperate for a cure when their child develops diabetes. In one sense, insulin injections are a cure in that they replace the missing hormone, but this is not much consolation to a distressed parent. Although a sense of desperation is natural, it is best for your child’s sake for you to try to accept that she will always have diabetes. In this way she is more likely to come to terms with the condition herself. It is normal to grieve but at

some stage you must face facts as a family and make use of all the help that is available for you and your daughter. In that way she will be less upset about her diabetes than you are. Hypnosis will not help her insulin cells to regenerate.

An evangelistic healing crusade claims to heal among other diseases ‘sugar diabetes’, malignant growth and multiple sclerosis, etc. Are these claims correct?

There are, of course, a handful of (unproven) reports of miracle cures of various serious diseases like cancer, but these are few and far between. A mildly overweight person might be persuaded to lose weight by a faith healer and so it might appear that the diabetes was ‘cured’, but no person on insulin has ever benefited from a healing crusade except in the strictly spiritual sense.

Insulin was discovered by Frederick Banting and Charles Best in the summer of 1921. The work was carried out in the Physiology Department of Toronto University while most of the staff was on their holidays. The first human to be given insulin was a 14-year-old boy named Leonard Thompson who was dying of diabetes in Toronto General Hospital. This was an historic event, representing the beginning of modern treatment for diabetes. It was then up to the chemists to transform the production of insulin into an industrial process on a vast scale. When Dr Robin Lawrence heard the news, he was in Florence waiting to die from diabetes. Instead he lived on and, with H. G. Wells, went on to found the British Diabetic Association, and now called Diabetes UK.

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