Acupuncture may help pre-diabetics avoid Type 2, study finds

Stress can lead to Type-2 diabetes. This is where acupuncture comes in, according to new research, which claims the therapy is more than just using needles.

Acupuncture treatment (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Acupuncture treatment
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)

Acupuncture therapy may be a useful tool in warding off Type-2 diabetes in prediabetic people, according to a new study by Edith Cowan University (ECU). 

The research, published this month in the peer-reviewed academic journal Holistic Nursing Practice, found that acupuncture significantly improved key markers, such as fasting plasma glucose, two-hour plasma glucose and glycated hemoglobin. Additionally, it led to a greater decline in the incidence of prediabetes, and notes that there were no reports of adverse reactions among patients.

The findings are based on an investigation of more than a dozen previous studies covering the effects of acupuncture on over 3,000 people with prediabetes, a condition that sees higher-than-normal blood glucose levels without being high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes.

A blood glucose test is done to check sugar levels in a Type 2 Diabetes patient (credit: DARRYL LEJA/NIH/FLICKR)A blood glucose test is done to check sugar levels in a Type 2 Diabetes patient (credit: DARRYL LEJA/NIH/FLICKR)

“Without intervention, 93% of people with prediabetes will develop type 2 diabetes within 20 years"

Min Zhang

Prediabetes is preventable 

Type-2 diabetes is caused mostly by being overweight, a lack of exercise and a diet containing too much sugar and other simple carbohydrates. There are some 600,000 Israelis of all ages who have been diagnosed with it, and many with pre-diabetes – and the numbers are increasing every year.

The International Diabetes Federation estimates that nearly 1.3 billion people will have either diabetes or prediabetes by 2045. According to ECU PhD candidate and lead researcher Min Zhang, prediabetes is reversible with lifestyle interventions such as improved diet and increase in exercise, unlike non-reversible diabetes. 

“Without intervention, 93% of people with prediabetes will develop type 2 diabetes within 20 years,” she said. “But many people struggle to adhere to lifestyle changes long-term, so non-pharmacological treatments such as acupuncture could prove valuable."

“Many people with prediabetes don’t have any symptoms and feel fine, but some people progress into the diabetes period no more than six months after their prediabetes diagnosis," Zhang said. 

But isn't diabetes associated with lifestyle factors?

The researchers noted that although Type-2 diabetes is often caused by lifestyle choices, such as lack of exercise or poor nutrition, stress or trouble sleeping also play significant factors. This is where acupuncture comes in. 

"Acupuncture can help with these factors and work holistically to help people balance their life," Zhang said, adding that more research on acupuncture's influence on diabetes is needed. 

What exactly is acupuncture therapy?

In the last decade, there has been a significant increase in the percentage of patients who choose complementary or alternative therapy. Acupuncture's healing powers have been used for more than two thousand years. Today, it is sometimes combined with traditional medicine. 

Zhang explained that acupuncture therapy is more than just using needles – it refers to a big family of acupoint stimulation techniques, such as light and electric pulses, and includes other traditional Chinese medicine therapies.