When we consume food and beverages, our body works to convert their nutrients into energy through the process of digestion. When the body is in a balanced, healthy state, the digested food enters the blood stream as glucose and the pancreas produces a hormone called insulin that converts the glucose into energy. This energy is used by muscle, fat, and liver cells.
Without the use of insulin, the body is incapable of converting the glucose into fuel and an excessive amount of it remains in the blood. Therefore, diabetes is a condition in which a person’s body is ill-equipped to produce or properly utilize insulin and leads to high blood levels of glucose. This imbalance in the blood can then lead to a variety of symptoms including frequent urination, fatigue, nausea, excessive thirst, blurry vision, and other afflictions.
If proper lifestyle maintenance is lacking through food intake, medicinal support, exercise, and other general habits; diabetes can lead to significant complications including: coronary diseases, a stroke, foot problems that can lead to amputation, and diabetes-specific, life-threatening conditions like diabetic ketoacidosis.
Diabetes is considered by the Western medical community as a life-long condition requiring continuous maintenance and management. The Western model of categorizing diabetes cites two primary types:
Type 1 diabetes is a condition in which a person’s pancreas is incapable of producing insulin. This is a disease that typically and suddenly manifests in children, teenagers, or young adults, and is considered a life-long complication. Type 1 patients require numerous shots of insulin per day, though some also utilize an insulin pump that delivers the hormone to the blood on a regular basis. This form is managed primarily through insulin intake as well as with proper amounts of exercise and physical activity, a diet managed through specific types of food, consistent eating intervals, and regular self-testing of blood sugar levels.
Type 2 diabetes is a condition in which a person’s cells are unable to make use of the insulin their body produces; a malady also known as insulin resistance. This is a disease that gradually manifests in people of all ages and ethnicities, though it most typically occurs in people who are overweight, have a low level of physical activity, and eat improper foods. Type 2 patients can sometimes regulate their disease through the intake of medications that help to maintain blood sugar levels. However, this regimen may also need to be supplemented or replaced by the intake of insulin. This form is managed through proper amounts of exercise and physical activity, a diet managed through specific types of food, consistent eating intervals, and regular self-testing of blood sugar levels. Type 2 patients are at risk of life-threatening conditions like diabetic hyperglycemic hyperosmolar syndrome which can induce falling into a coma. Approximately nine out of every ten diabetes sufferers in the United States suffer from type 2.
When relating the Western diagnosis of diabetes to Ayurvedic practice and terminology, there is a significant difference in how the two systems relate. Ayurveda views this disease as a dysfunction of the urinary system, and cites twenty different types as determined by the quality of the patient’s urine.
Each of the three doshas of Kapha, Pitta, and Vata are associated with their own respective aspects of these twenty types of disease, and the severity and prognosis of the patient’s affliction will determine the basic nature of their imbalance.
Most varieties of diabetes are related to a Kapha imbalance as they will have thick, voluminous, and even slimy urine. However, Kapha-based forms of diabetes are also most likely to be entirely healed, although complete resolution of the disease depends upon a quick and thorough addressing of the body’s needs in response to the onset of the imbalance.
Pitta-based forms of diabetes are quicker to form than the Kapha kind and, while it is possible to heal, are more likely to be more persistent and may need to be managed over the course of the patient’s life. These types of diabetes are defined by smelly, bitter, and sometimes burning types of urine.
The most severe types of diabetes are based on a Vata imbalance. They are not able to be completely healed, can only be managed, and have likely been an affliction in the patient over a prolonged period of time. There are only a few types of Vata-based forms of diabetes. The urine in these will often expel the breakdown of other body tissue like fat, bone marrow, or the . The longer one has this type, the less likely it is to be completely resolved.
Given its serious and often incurable nature, diabetes is a disease that is best treated and managed under the guidance of a trained Ayurvedic practitioner. Those who have continuous and productive contact with such a person can utilize the proper tools to at least control and sometimes resolve the disease. Utilizing the tools that follow without proper guidance can at best reduce the severity of the symptoms. With that said, it is Ayurveda’s goal to either use elimination therapies (like purgation) or nourishing therapies (suchas with medicated oils and ghees) that depend on the relative strength or weakness of the patient being treated. Ayurveda also manages this disease through other treatments, proper diet, herbal therapy, and exercise.
When we neglect to establish the root cause of one illness, it can turn into another, stronger illness in the future. The first step in resolving a specific ailment or disease in the body is to assess the nature of our lifestyle and make general modifications. Living our day-to-day life with a deliberate intention to improve our health will help us to both resolve the disease we are suffering from and prevent further incidence of it and other diseases in the future. The following tasks are offered as general guidelines for alleviating symptoms associated with diabetes and lessening the severity of its related imbalances:
Ayurveda teaches us that disease and sickness are derived from poor digestion and inappropriate food choices. We then have the opportunity to make deliberate and more conscious decisions as to what foods we do and do not put in our body which increases the chance of resolving the body’s imbalance.
Food needs to be in season, in moderate combinations of one or two food groups, not too hot or cold, in a modest enough quantity to allow for room in the stomach later, consumed without too much liquid which hinders digestive power, and should be fresh and not left over for more than a few hours. Given the challenges of properly synthesizing the energy of food when suffering from diabetes, eating proper foods is of tremendous importance when managing this disease. The following list provides foods that are appropriate to eat for diabetes:
Bitter fruits and vegetables such as bitter gourd/bitter melon
While some foods can help to balance an aggravated dosha, other foods can cause further imbalance. Dry and cold foods as well as pungent, bitter and astringent tastes will dry out the body and aggravate the Vata dosha. Sour, salty and pungent tastes as well as spicy foods will add more heat to the body and aggravate the Pitta dosha. Sweet, sour and salty tasting foods will add heaviness to the body and aggravate the Kapha dosha. It is important to work in consultation with an experienced practitioner when regulating the intake of foods in response to diabetes, but avoiding the following types of foods will help stabilize the body:
Dairy products (except goat milk, in moderation)
Avoid consuming too many fats in the form of oils and ghee.
All sweet and sugary foods
Honey is an exception and can be taken in moderation
Generally, Ayurveda discourages the consumption of too many cold beverages, as doing so hinders the strength of the body’s digestive fire. Instead, favors room temperature or hot beverages to encourage the strength of the digestive fire.
Hot water, especially during meals, first thing in the morning, and a few cups during the day.
Herbal teas of ginger, turmeric, cardamom, sandalwood, and black pepper.
Avoid cold and frozen drinks
Avoid sugary or fizzy drinks that blend with the digestive juice and create excessive amounts of glucose in the blood.
Avoid alcohol, coffee, and black tea.
Herbs are used in the Ayurvedic system much like Western medicine utilizes drugs and vitamins and can be taken like tea 2 to 3 times a day. Herbs aid in the digestion of food, the breakdown and elimination of toxins, and help to strengthen the cellular structure of our system for greater vitality. Herbs become more potent once mixed with other herbs of similar properties. Mix together 2 to 4 different herbs from the below list by adding a quarter to a half teaspoon full of each, for a total of 1 teaspoon. Drink these in half cup of hot water.
When applied therapeutically to specific ailments, yoga postures provide an opportunity to strengthen the body, rid it of toxic matter, and restore balance. The postures included in this section can be practiced as part of a more general sequence or can be focused on in short sessions. When first exploring yoga postures, it is best to only practice them for twenty minutes or so per day and build up from there once the body becomes more flexible.
Seated forward bend
Aromatherapy utilizes the fragrances of essential oils when applied to the skin. Essential oils can burn the skin and therefore must be diluted with a base oil such as sesame, coconut, sunflower, canola, or mustard oil. Mix 1 fluid ounce of base oil with about 12 drops of essential oil before applying to skin. You can also just mix 5 drops of base oil to one drop of essential oil if using on one spot.
Diabetes can be treated with cinnamon, eucalyptus, sage, basil, musk, cedar, frankincense, or myrrh oil.
Use a canola or mustard oil base.
Apply oil on the skin between the navel and pubic bone.
Ayurvedic tradition suggests that repeating certain words or sounds can help a person suffering from an ailment to restore subtle balance to nerve tissue and enhance one’s mental clarity. Different sounds are prescribed to either repeat mentally or chant outwardly. These sounds are also used and repeated in the mind for the purpose of spiritual growth.
To help control diabetes, repeat the syllable “Hoom” for several minutes a few times a day and build more practice over time.
It is helpful to both outwardly chant and inwardly repeat this syllable for the duration of time it is practiced.
Controlling the breath is a central practice toward developing peace and stillness in the mind and body. When the breath is under our control, we are no longer at the mercy of the senses that are stimulated by everything and lead to greater fluctuations of the mind. When applied to the context of resolving specific ailments, the breath is used as a tool for developing lung capacity, heating and cooling the body, and resolving mental afflictions like anxiety and stress.
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