Acupuncture for Diabetes

acupuncture for diabetes
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For people with diabetes, the needle-based therapy known as acupuncture may offer a number of health benefits. Some research shows that acupuncture may help control diabetes by treating insulin resistance, while other studies indicate that this long-practiced form of traditional Chinese medicine may help protect against certain complications commonly linked to diabetes.

Acupuncture and Insulin Resistance

Insulin resistance occurs when your body fails to use insulin effectively.

A hormone produced by the pancreas, insulin is responsible for helping your cells take in glucose (i.e., blood sugar) and use it for energy. In cases of insulin resistance, the cells have trouble absorbing glucose, which causes glucose to build up in the bloodstream and reach the abnormally high levels associated with diabetes.

A hallmark of both diabetes and heart disease, insulin resistance appears to result from factors like excess weight, lack of physical activity, sleep problems, and smoking. While lifestyle changes such as following a healthy diet and exercising regularly are essential for fighting insulin resistance, some proponents suggest that acupuncture can further help improve insulin sensitivity (a measure of the body's ability to use insulin efficiently).

Although research on acupuncture's effectiveness in the treatment of insulin resistance is fairly limited, there's some evidence that it may help treat this condition and enhance health in diabetes patients.

In a 2010 report from Diabetes, Obesity & Metabolism, for instance, scientists analyzed previously published research on acupuncture and insulin resistance and found some preliminary evidence that the therapy has the potential to improve insulin sensitivity. However, the report's authors also note that more research is needed to determine whether acupuncture might serve as an effective treatment for insulin resistance.

Related: 3 Remedies for Insulin Resistance

Acupuncture and Diabetic Neuropathy

As many as 70 percent of people with diabetes struggle with diabetic neuropathies, a class of disorders marked by damage to the nerves. Thought to develop as a result of poor blood sugar control, diabetic neuropathies include peripheral neuropathy (a condition characterized by pain or loss of feeling in the toes, feet, legs, hands, and arms) and autonomic neuropathy (a disorder that impairs the function of the digestive system, bowels, and bladder and may also affect the heart, lungs, and eyes).

Related: Herbs for Pain Management

Some preliminary research suggests that acupuncture shows promise in the treatment of diabetic peripheral neuropathy. This research includes a pilot study published in Acupuncture in Medicine in 2014, for which 45 people with diabetic peripheral neuropathy were assigned to 10 weeks of treatment with either real acupuncture or sham acupuncture (in which practitioners did not focus on points believed to be connected to the body's energy pathways).

Over the course of the 10-week treatment period, small improvements were seen in a number of symptoms (including lower limb pain) and in blood pressure among patients treated with real acupuncture. On the other hand, little change was seen in those receiving sham acupuncture. 

It should be noted that a research review published in the journal PLoS One in 2013 found that no firm conclusions can be drawn as to the acupuncture's effectiveness in the treatment of diabetic peripheral neuropathy.

For this review, investigators sized up 25 previously published clinical trials (with a total of 1,649 participants) and determined that acupuncture improved symptoms of diabetic peripheral neuropathy more effectively compared to several other treatments (such as the use of vitamins B1 and vitamin B12). However, the report's authors caution that the quality of the reviewed trials was generally poor.

Using Acupuncture for Diabetes Control

Although acupuncture is generally considered safe when provided by a qualified practitioner, using this therapy as a substitute for standard care in the treatment of diabetes may have harmful consequences. Before using any type of alternative medicine (including acupuncture) in the treatment of diabetes, make sure to consult your physician for guidance in incorporating the therapy into your disease management plan.


Abuaisha BB1, Costanzi JB, Boulton AJ. "Acupuncture for the treatment of chronic painful peripheral diabetic neuropathy: a long-term study." Diabetes Res Clin Pract. 1998 Feb;39(2):115-21.

Ahn AC1, Bennani T, Freeman R, Hamdy O, Kaptchuk TJ. "Two styles of acupuncture for treating painful diabetic neuropathy--a pilot randomised control trial." Acupunct Med. 2007 Jun;25(1-2):11-7.

Chen W1, Yang GY, Liu B, Manheimer E, Liu JP. "Manual acupuncture for treatment of diabetic peripheral neuropathy: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials." PLoS One. 2013 Sep 12;8(9):e73764.

Garrow AP1, Xing M2, Vere J3, Verrall B3, Wang L4, Jude EB5. "Role of acupuncture in the management of diabetic painful neuropathy (DPN): a pilot RCT." Acupunct Med. 2014 Jun;32(3):242-9.

Liang F1, Koya D. "Acupuncture: is it effective for treatment of insulin resistance?" Diabetes Obes Metab. 2010 Jul;12(7):555-69.

Tong Y1, Guo H, Han B. "Fifteen-day acupuncture treatment relieves diabetic peripheral neuropathy." J Acupunct Meridian Stud. 2010 Jun;3(2):95-103.

Zhang C1, Ma YX, Yan Y. "Clinical effects of acupuncture for diabetic peripheral neuropathy." J Tradit Chin Med. 2010 Mar;30(1):13-4.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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