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Cardiovascular Health

An Eastern Approach to Diabetes

TCM is a complex field with numerous approaches and treatments, we take an in-depth look into diabetes as understood by this ancient field of medicine, with tips and advice from Tang Yue, a senior physician with Eu Yan Sang, a renowned brand in Asia when it comes to TCM products and services.


TCM is a form of holistic medicine that sees any illness as the compounded effect of disorders in various parts of the body, and irregularities in the flow of the body’s natural energies, or qi.

According to Physician Tang, TCM views diabetes as a condition called wasting thirst, whose symptoms include “polydipsia (excessive thirst), polyphagia (excessive hunger), polyuria (excessive urine output), and weight loss.” The causes are complicated and not simply due to excessive blood sugar. Broadly speaking, diabetic symptoms in TCM are tied to the depletion of yin energy and the production in the body of excessive asthenic fire. “The main goal in TCM treatment of diabetes is to invigorate the spleen (pancreas) and revitalise the kidney,” she explains.


Physician Tang offers several factors that can give rise to diabetes according to TCM:

  • Poor Diet: Over-consumption of greasy, sweet, and spicy foods as well as alcohol can exhaust the spleen and result in the production of damp heat
  • Emotional Disorder: An unstable emotional life can disrupt the flow of energy in the body, causing stagnation of qi, which in turn leads to an excess of an internal TCM property called internal fire
  • Congenital Insufficiencies: Certain imbalances and disruptions in energy can be transferred to the patient from his parents
  • High Sex Drive: This can exhaust the kidney essence, which provides yin to the whole body; yin deficiency is responsible for the symptoms of wasting thirst.

TCM doesn’t look at diabetes the same way as conventional medicine does, that is, as type-1 or type-2. Rather, TCM considers the different symptoms that these two types of diabetes present before coming up with a diagnosis and treatment options.

But is TCM sufficient?

According to Physician Tang, for early stage type-2 diabetes, where blood sugar is slightly elevated, the disease can be wholly managed by TCM. But in other advanced forms of diabetes, TCM plays a mostly supporting and complementary role to conventional treatment, helping to alleviate pain and promote general wellbeing.

The main approach that TCM adopts is through orally administered herbal decoctions that address certain imbalances with a mix of potent herbal properties. Prescriptions are formulated according to each patient’s particular body constitution.


Physician Tang advises that diabetes symptoms can be broken down into three main categories:

Upper Wasting

Characterised by: Lung Heat with Depletion of Jin syndrome

Signs and symptoms: Excessive thirst, dry mouth, excessive urine output, excessive perspiration, irritability with warm body sensation, red tongue with thin yellow coating, rapid pulse

Common prescription: Wasting Thirst Prescription, made with Coptis chinesis (Huang Lian), Ophiopogon japonicas (Mai Dong), and Radix Rehmannia (Sheng Di Huang)


“Even with medication, diet control is just as important,” advises Physician Tang. She advises patients to avoid sugary items such as candies, chocolates, pastries, and sweetened drinks. She also advises patients to reduce the intake of starch and fat.

Middle Wasting

Characterized by: Stomach Fire syndrome

Signs and symptoms: Excessive hunger, bad breath, weight loss, frequent oral ulcers, excessive thirst and urine output, constipation with dry stools, red tongue with yellow coating, strong rapid pulse

Common prescription: Jade Maiden Decoction, made with Gypsum fibrosum (Shi Gao), Rhizoma anemarrhenae (Zhi Mu), and Gardenia jasminoides (Zhi Zi)

Lower Wasting

Characterized by: Deficiency of Yin in the Kidney syndrome

Signs and symptoms: Excessive turbid urination, lower lumbar pain with weakness in the knees, fatigue, dizziness, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), dry lips, dry and itchy skin, red tongue with little or no coating, thin and rapid pulse

Common prescription: Six-flavour Rehmannia Pill, made with Schisandra (Wu Wei Zi), Chinese Yam (Shan Yao), and Wolfberries or Goji berries (Gou Qi Zi)


Physician Tang advises people with diabetes to fill up on foods with a low glycaemic index (GI), which will lead to less of a spike in blood glucose levels:

  • oats
  • wholemeal bread
  • brown rice
  • lentils
  • soy
  • walnuts

She also suggests that the following items could be made part of your diet, especially in soups:

  • black fungus
  • Chinese yam
  • barley
  • American ginseng
  • wolfberries