An Ancient Approach To Diabetic Care With Ayurvedic Treatment

Rice is part of the Ayurvedic treatment for diabetes.
Rice is part of the Ayurvedic treatment for diabetes.. Banar Fil Ardhi/EyeEm/Getty Images

Ayurveda, a holistic approach to medicine that originated in India thousands of years ago, can be an effective means of treating diabetes. The word Ayurveda comes from the Sanskrit words ayur (life) and veda (knowledge) -- or, "the science of life." Ayurvedic medicine is based on the belief that all living things are made of up the five elements of earth, water, fire, air, and space; that there are three types of energy present in all living things -- called vata, pitta and kapha -- and that disease is caused by an imbalance in these energies.

Ayurvedic Approach to Diabetes

According to Ayurveda, diabetes can be traced to an imbalance of kapha energy, which is comprised of the elements earth and water. Holistic practitioners attribute the development of diabetes to a decrease in the digestive fire, or "agni," and thereby a diminished ability of the body to metabolize energy and eliminate toxins.

As an Ayurvedic treatment for diabetes, a practitioner would recommend avoiding excess sweets, carbohydrates, red meat, seafood and dairy products -- which are all thought to aggravate the kapha energy. Instead, your diet should include barley, rye, corn, rice, oats, fresh vegetables such as asparagus, peppers, onions, garlic, eggplant, spinach, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, and herbs like ginger, okshura, gudmar, triphala, musta, cardamom, fenugreek, or coriander.

Dry cooking -- like baking, broiling, and grilling -- are thought to be preferable for balancing the heavy, cool, wet nature of kapha.

Honey is often recommended over sugar for diabetes in ayurvedic medicine. And in addition to dietary modification, regular physical activity, herbal supplementation, yoga, and meditation are also often recommended.

What's the Take Home on the Ayurvedic Approach to Diabetes?

It's difficult to find major flaws with the basic Ayurvedic diet recommendations for diabetes.

Avoiding excess sweets and encouraging vegetable and whole grain intake is certainly aligned with more contemporary diabetic diet strategies.

One variance would be the recommendation to avoid red meat, seafood and dairy -- for which I would argue that eating lean red meats once or twice per week, salmon for omega-3 fatty acids, and low-fat dairy for calcium and protein are acceptable and healthy for diabetics. I've looked closely at the benefit of honey over sugar, and I'm not convinced that there is one.

It is not surprising that a long tradition developed for diabetes management through diet, as medications were not available until a few decades ago. It is still wise advice to manage your diet carefully.

Cautions for Herbal Ayurvedic Treatments for Diabetes

But really, the only Ayurvedic treatments for diabetes I would be especially cautious of are the herbal recommendations by Ayurvedic practitioners. It's important to do your own research into herbal recommendations, and to consult with your doctor before beginning any herbal treatment -- herbs have many side effects.

Blood sugar lowering is a side-effect of some herbs, but if they are taken in combination with blood sugar lowering medications, the result can be too dramatic. Some herbs could alter the effects of medications, and due to poor regulation of the herbal market, potency variability is always an issue.

Finally, it's important to keep in mind that if your diabetes cannot be controlled by diet alone, medications might still be necessary.


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