Diabetes in Traditional Chinese Medicine

March 11, 2019 Joe Brady

A disease of accelerated aging, more than 29 million people in the United States have diabetes and 86 million adults aged 20 years and older have prediabetes.

In ancient China diabetes used to be a fairly rare disease occurring only in old age because people were physically active. Still diabetes (Xiao Ke) was treated as far back as the Yellow Emperors classic and many of China’s top anti aging remedies such as ginseng were used. Much modern research shows that these remedies were somewhat effective and may be of real use in modern times helping folks with what is considered pre-diabetes manage their health and avoid full blown diabetes with more natural methods.

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In the treatment and management of diabetes mellitus and it’s precursor metabolic syndrome, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has a long history, theory and substantial treatments in acupuncture, exercise, diet and herb remedies especially in the control of glucose and lipid metabolism.

Diabetes, basically means you have too much glucose (sugar) in your blood and over time that causes damage that leads to many health problems. Diabetes include type 1 diabetes (juvenile) and type 2 diabetes (the kind we all get if we live long enough). Potentially reversible diabetes include prediabetes or metabolic syndrome if you catch it when the blood sugar first begins to creep up as we get older. Diabetes can also occur during pregnancy but usually goes away after the baby is delivered.

Traditional Chinese Medicine Can Help

More research is needed into the potential of TCM in the treatment of diabetes, however the metabolic activities of many Chinese herbal medicines have been proven in well-designed animal experiments.

In chronic diabetes, the patients usually manifest emaciation (Xiao in Chinese) and thirst (Ke in Chinese). Xiao-Ke or wasting-thirsting disease is the ancient Chinese medicine term for diabetes and is characterized into three types:

1. Upper Jiao diabetes is marked by thirst and polydipsia.
2. Middle Jiao is marked by hunger and polyphagia.
3. Lower Jiao diabetes is marked by thirst and polyuria with turbid urine. In many patients the urine also has a high level of sugar. As a modern practitioner of TCM I’m glad we have blood tests now because the ancient way of diagnosing diabetes was for the practitioner to taste the urine of the patient and if it tasted sweet bingo.
The term Jiao (burner) in Chinese refers to metabolism, the process of burning sugar which is determined by how much sugar you put into the system or diet and how much the sugar you burn off from the system that’s called exercise.

Diet and Exercise

Diet and exercise are obviously the most important aspects of preventing and treating the disease or diabetes and some more will be written on this in other articles to come. Ultimately diet and exercise are the only way to keep diabetes is at bay as we get older. There are however other Chinese medicine treatments that can be used to relieve the symptoms of diabetes and make a patient more comfortable hopefully long enough for them to pursue a better diet and exercise.

Exercises for Balancing the Three Jiaos

Tai Chi – in general is used as a long term solution combined with,
Qi Gong – Qi breathing using the Whoooo sound.

Massage to Improve Digestion and Circulation

Harmonize Fire & Water, Harmonize the three Jiaos
Massage Xiphoid to Pubis,
Counter Clockwise around ren 8 (belly button) 21x

Rub Sides to groin downward 21x

Press Knead Bl 13, Bl 20, Bl 23, St 36, Sp 6
Dredge Lanmen, St 21, Ren 12, Ren 4
Dig Grasp Ht 1, Li 11, Li4
Rub & Rock arms
Emit vibrate Bl 13, Bl 20, Bl 23, Ren 12 Ren 4

* Not sure where these points are ask your Tai Chi teacher or acupuncture doctor or submit your question to the Barefoot Doctor’s Journal.


Upper Jiao Diabetes (Xiao Ke) Lung Heat

Symptoms – Dry Mouth Thirsty, tongue red pulse is Full & Rapid

Treatment principle Clear Fire

Acupuncture Points

UJ Ht 8, Bl 15. Lu 9, Bl 13, Yi Shu, Lu 11, Lu 10, Lu 1, Ren 17, Lu 2,

* Not sure where these points are ask your Tai Chi teacher or acupuncture doctor or submit your question to the Barefoot Doctor’s Journal.

Herbal Formulas

Xiao Ke Tang,

Tian Hua fen
Huang Lian
Sheng Di huang
Ou Jie (Lotus root juice)
Ge Gen
Mai men Dong

Yeu Chung Pills stop thirst

Bitter Melon
(Take out Seeds & Soak in water not so Bitter),

Beef (higher protein less carbs diet)

Middle Jiao Xiao Ke Stomach Heat

Symptoms – Emaciated, Dry Stool, Hungry pulse is Slippery Forceful
Tongue Yellow coat
Treatment principle Tonify Spleen Clear Heat

Acupuncture Points –

ST 44, SP 6, Ren 12, Bl 20, Yi shu, Bl 21, Bl 22, Ren 12
* Not sure where these points are ask your Tai Chi teacher or acupuncture doctor or submit your question to the Barefoot Doctor’s Journal.

Herbal Formulas

Yu Nu Jian,

She Gao
Shu Di Huang
Mai Men Dong
Zhi Mu
Niu Zi
Huang Lian
Zhi zi

Royal Jelly

Doctor Gao’s formula

Rice 100,
Ge Geng 30,
Yi Yi ren 30
Upper Jiao Diabetes (Xiao Ke) Kidney Yin Deficiency

Symptoms – Low Back/Knee pain, turbid Sweet Pee Pulse – Thready Rapid, Tongue – Red No coat

Treatment principle Tonify Ki Yin Stop Leak

Acupuncture Points – Lj Ki 3, Liv 3, Ren 4, Ki 17, Yi shu, Bl 18, Bl 23, Bl 28, Ren 3, Ren 4
* Not sure where these points are ask your Tai Chi teacher or acupuncture doctor or submit your question to the Barefoot Doctor’s Journal.

Herbal Formulas

Liu wei Di Huang Wan (Ki yin Def.)

Jing Gui Shen Qi Wan (Ki Yang Def.)

Dr. Fan’s Secret Formula (Ki yin Def.)

Huang Qi 6-9 grams,
Xi Yang Shen 3-5,
Zhi Mu2-3,
Wu Wei zi 2-3,
Ji Nei JIng2-3,
Shan Yao 3-5,
Ge Gen 1-2,
Tian Hua Fen 2-3,
Mai Men Dong 2-3,
Shan Zhu Yu 2-3. Shi Wei 3-5

Turtle tea

Turtle 500,
Gou Qi Zi, 10,


Green tea

Wintermelon Tea

winter melon skin 100
watermelon 100
American ginseng

Modern Research

Over 22 traditional Chinese herbs have been reviewed for their potential activities in the treatment of metabolic syndrome.

Three herbs in particular, ginseng, huang lian (rhizoma coptidis, berberine, the major active compound) and bitter melon have been most researched for their effectiveness in treating diabetes.


Ginseng extracts made from root, rootlet, berry and leaf of Panax quinquefolium (American ginseng) and Panax ginseng (Asian ginseng), are proved for anti-hyperglycemia, insulin sensitization, islet protection, anti-obesity and anti-oxidation in many model systems. Energy expenditure is enhanced by ginseng through thermogenesis. Ginseng-specific saponins (ginsenosides) are considered as the major bioactive compounds for the metabolic activities of ginseng.
Considered an adaptogen, aphrodisiac and nourishing stimulant, ginseng has been historically used in the treatment of most ageing-associated diseases (14). Metabolic syndrome has a high prevalence in aging population. Ginseng has been widely studied for treatment of diabetes, dyslipidemia and obesity and has been shown to reduce blood glucose in diabetic models (15; 16).

Huang Lian (berberine)

Huang Lian or rhizoma coptidis has been shown to be a hypoglycemic agent. It also has anti-obesity and anti-dyslipidemia activities. The action mechanism is related to inhibition of mitochondrial function, stimulation of glycolysis, activation of AMPK pathway, suppression of adipogenesis and induction of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) receptor expression.
Most ancient records or books, Huang Lian or Rhizoma Coptidis is used for the treatment of infection and inflammation because infectious diseases were much more popular than diabetes in ancient China (49; 50).
Berberine (an active ingredient in huang lian and several other Chinese herbs) was reported to have comparable activity to metformin in reducing blood glucose in diabetic patients.
Studies have confirmed that administration of berberine (0.5 g t.i.d.) at the beginning of each major meals reduced HbA1c of the patients was decreased by 2.0% with berberine treatment, which is comparable to that of metformin. Besides the hypoglycemic action, a beneficial effect of berberine on lipid metabolism was also observed (51; 52). However, up to now, there is no well-controlled, long-term clinical trial to evaluate the efficacy of berberine in the treatment of diabetes.

Bitter Melon

Bitter melon or bitter gourd (Momordica charantia), karolla or cerasee) is a popular vegetable as well as an herb in China and has been used as an herb for at least 600 years in South China (87 ). Bitter Melon is able to reduce blood glucose and lipids in both normal and diabetic animals. It may also protect β cells, enhance insulin sensitivity and reduce oxidative stress. Bitter melon is known for its “plant insulin”, a polypeptide which exerts a potent hypoglycemic effect after injection (88). Oral administration of “plant insulin” is not as effective as the peptide is inactivated in the gut. The body seems to be making some use of this “plant insulin”, since a substantial number of reports indicate that bitter melon is able to exert a hypoglycemic effect in a variety of animal models through oral administration.

Although evidence from animals and humans consistently supports the therapeutic activities of ginseng, berberine and bitter melon, multi-center large-scale clinical trials have not been conducted to evaluate the efficacy and safety of these herbal medicines.

For more information or to ask questions contact Joe Brady at Barefoot Doctor’s Journal or call

303 744-7676.