What exactly is diabetes?
Diabetes in, very simplistic terms, can be defined as excess of glucose in the blood. When you consume food, your blood sugar levels rise. The rising blood sugar levels, the pancreas release the hormone insulin into your bloodstream.
The presence of insulin in your blood is the signal for your muscles, liver and fat cells to take up glucose from your bloodstream, where it is stored as glycogen, a principle source of energy for your body.
However, diabetes occurs when the pancreas fails to produce sufficient amounts of insulin and because diabetics lack sufficient insulin or are unresponsive to insulin, blood sugar levels remain high. If diabetes is not managed properly, it can lead to complications like heart attacks, strokes, blindness, nerve damage, amputation of limbs, impotence in men and pruritus (itching).
Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus also known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes occurs due to the autoimmune destruction of the insulin producing cells of the pancreas resulting in increased blood and urine glucose levels. The symptoms for this are frequent urination, increased thirst and hunger and weight loss.
Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus also known as adult-onset diabetes or non-insulin-dependent diabetes is characterised by insulin resistance and deficiency. However, the cause for this is primarily rooted in lifestyle issues like increasing stress, sedentary living and an unhealthy diet, as well as genetics.
The symptoms for this are similar to Type 1’s and also include fatigue, vision changes, slow healing from cuts and wounds and skin changes. Type 2 diabetes can be controlled with proper diet and exercise and treatment.
Ayurveda and diabetes
In Ayurveda, Diabetes is called Prameha. Unlike modern science that divides diabetes into two categories, Ayurveda further divides prameha or diabetes into 20 sub-divisions. These sub-divisions are based on doshas with 4 divisions due to Vata, 6 due to Pitta and 10 rooted in Kapha dosha.
The main and most common sub-division is the one rooted in Kapha dosha. Prameha when not treated leads to Madhumeha or Diabetes Mellitus (Type 2). According to Ayurveda the primary cause of Prameha and Madhumeha are an unhealthy diet that aggravates the Kapha dosha, lack of exercise, excessive sleep and stress. Ayurveda also points out that besides the symptoms mentioned earlier, one must also look out for burning of palms and soles, dryness of mouth and a sweet taste in the mouth.
In Ayurveda, Prameha and Madhumeha are divided into 20 sub-categories based on the doshas. The three main divisions are the Kaphaja, Pittaja and Vataja. The symptoms experienced by these three divisions if they are suffering from diabetes are as follows;
Kaphaja: Indigestion, loss of appetite, cold with running nose, excessive sleep, vomiting tendency.
Pittaja: Pain in bladder and urinary tract, pain in testes, fever, burning sensation, thirst, acidity. giddiness, loose motion, loss of sleep.
Vataja: Tremors, insomnia, cough, difficulty in breathing, constipation, wasting away.
Ayurvedic practitioners have a multi-pronged approach to diabetes. Ayurveda, too, recommends lifestyle remedies that include limiting foods that are high in sugar and simple carbohydrates, eating smaller portions through the day, eating a variety of whole-grain foods, complex carbohydrates and vegetables every day, less fat and using less salt. It is also important to avoid smoking, reduce intake of alcohol, sleep adequately, check blood sugar levels periodically, check weight periodically and maintain ideal body weight.
Ideally, your food proportion should be 60% vegetables, 30% protein, 10% carbohydrates with half an hour of mild exercise such as walking. The diet should be a Kapha-pacifying diet and should include protein-rich foods like soya bean products and lentils like chickpea, moong, masoor and vegetables like spinach, leafy greens, bottle gourd, turai, bhopla (white pumpkin), snake gourd and bitter gourd and, cereals like green millet, ragi, corn, horse gram and barley.
Intake of protein should, however, be limited as it can strain the kidneys. Similarly, limit the intake of fat as the deficiency of pancreatic enzymes makes digestion of fat difficult. A diabetic should avoid eating rice, potato, sweet fruits, white flour, wheat, red meat and sago. He or she should also avoid sugar, sugar cane, jaggery and juices of sweet fruits. In terms of fruits, oranges and lemon are good.
Herbal remedies, if taken correctly, have a powerful effect on your body but should only be used under the care and guidance of an Ayurvedic practitioner. These include Jambhul (Eugenia jambolana) powder from jamun core, Guggul, Amalaki, Triphala, Shilajit, Gurmar (gymnema sylvestre) and Bel (Aegle marmelos) Most of these herbs target elevated blood sugar levels and balance the same. In fact, some herbs like stevia and liquorice, are also used as a sugar substitute.
Besides herbal medication, Ayurveda recommends the Panchakarma as a cleansing treatment program. The Panchakarma begins with an herbal massage and an herbal steam sauna followed by fasting to cleanse the body. This is followed by an herbal purge for the liver, pancreas and spleen and this is further followed by colon therapy which cleanses the digestive tract and reconstitutes the system.
Snehana and shodhana are also the basic treatment methods which are employed dependent on the condition and body type of the patient. The Shamana treatment is given after the above mentioned treatments, and uses combinations of herbal medications.
Daily exercise is necessary to manage diabetes. Yoga is beneficial, especially asanas like Paschimottanasana and Halasana and Pranayama and Vajrasana.
Binu Sivan is a Dubai-based freelance writer