The Danger of Treating Diabetes with Alternative Medicine

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The Danger of Treating Diabetes with Alternative Medicine - Rachel Zinman

Yoga was food for my mind, but it wasn’t food for my body. Throughout my many years of practice and teaching yoga, I suffered from chronic digestive issues. I kept them at bay with numerous alternative treatments until one day I fell down and couldn’t get up. My whole body was shaking. I knew something wasn’t right and I needed to rest. A week later my blood work came back from the lab.

My doctor prided himself on the fact that he combined holistic healing with allopathic medicine. His approach to my condition, however, was appalling. He blurted out that I was diabetic. He’d checked my A1c after noticing my fasting sugar was slightly high. He told me I would be responsible for healing myself. He said there was no cure. I was confused and tried to get him to slow down. I madly scribbled notes in my notebook and felt completely overwhelmed. I was supposed to fly to India in three days time to lead a yoga teachers’ training. The trip was set and I couldn’t cancel. The doctor wasn’t interested in my plans. He ignored my questions and concerns and shoved some pamphlets in my hands suggesting I take some brown rice protein for the trip and that I “google” diabetes.

It was one of the most shocking moments in my life. I drove home crying, feeling desperate and deeply ashamed. How could a health conscious person like me, a yoga teacher, have an incurable disease?

Fortunately, the next day I was able to get an appointment with a local endocrinologist who also happened to be a close friend. He was quite puzzled when he saw the results of my tests, but immediately reassured me that my A1c of 6.8% wasn’t that high. “That’s in the pre-diabetic range,” he shared. “You don’t present like a type 2 diabetic. I’m not quite sure what’s going on, but let’s do some more tests and get to the bottom of it.”  Because I was heading off to India we waited for further testing. He encouraged me to buy a glucometer and to test regularly and make a note of what was happening with my blood glucose levels.

On my return from India we did further tests which revealed my pancreas was still producing some insulin. I asked him if he thought I could regenerate my pancreas. He smiled a little and shook his head.

I refused to take no for an answer.

The Danger of Treating Diabetes with Alternative Medicine

Thus began my journey in the river of denial, which I saw as the bright hope to finding my own cure. That first year I radically worked on my diet. I bought every low GI diet book in the bookstore and cooked up a storm. It was working. My daily blood glucose levels stayed in range and my A1c was 6.2%. I also went to weekly Japanese acupuncture sessions and took herbs for my kidneys, spleen and liver. I was excited and convinced things were on the up and up. My energy levels were better and I was less stressed.

Six months later, however, my blood glucose was no longer in range. I found my way to one of the top Ayurvedic doctors in the U.S. The first thing he told me was that I wasn’t a type 2 diabetic. Diet, exercise, and herbs couldn’t cure my diabetes. I was eager to know if he did know what would cure me. His take on my health was that I was overly sensitive due to environmental factors. Electromagnetic frequencies were affecting my blood sugar levels and the heavy amounts of supplements I was taking were damaging my liver. If I could stop the supplements and improve my gut health and reduce my exposure to EMF’s there was definitely a chance I could improve. He never mentioned the words, “manage my condition” so instead I foolishly hoped for a cure.

A year later my A1c was up to 7.9%. I was back in my hometown and my endo was willing to give me three more months to get my A1c back down. If it didn’t work we were going to have to look at medication options. I decided to start a ketogenic diet, but everything pushed my blood glucose levels higher and higher. I was eating eggs, Swiss chard and zucchini peppered with some avocado, and hemp seeds. That was it. It was exhausting. I felt like no matter what I did I was a failure.  I was losing weight and my daily blood sugar readings were always high. I kept thinking it was okay, that I’d be okay, that something would change. Just one more day, I’d tell myself and then I’ll call the doctor.

My partner urged me to consider going on medication, and I kept insisting it was a parasite, a fluke, my meter was wrong. It wasn’t even diabetes. Then one day he put his foot down. “You’ve done it all, you’ve tried for six years. It’s enough. We’re going to the doctor and we are taking his advice!”

It wasn’t easy for my endo, also my friend of over ten years, to tell me the results of my A1c. It was 10.7% I’d been to see the nerve specialist the week before because my hands and feet had started buzzing and I was showing signs of the early stages of neuropathy. “We just can’t do it anymore,” he said shaking his head. “You need medication. Have you ever heard of LADA?”

I’d never heard of it.

“That’s what you have. You’re a type 1 diabetic, not pre-diabetic and not type 2. I’m recommending you start with basal insulin. One shot a day. We’ll start you out a low dose because you manage your diet so well.”

I was heartbroken. My endo reminded me that I’d tried really hard, I’d done better than most and I would feel so much better very soon. I didn’t believe him, but I trusted him. I still didn’t think insulin would make a difference. I still thought I could turn things around.

I couldn’t stop the river of tears, I’d made an appointment with a certified diabetes educator (CDE) and I’d picked up insulin from the pharmacy. I cried in the car, I cried in my yoga practice, I cried all over my computer and into my bowl of soup. My partner kept saying, “Why are you crying? This is brilliant you’re going to get better. All this suffering is going to stop. No more not knowing, no more indecision. It’s going to be the best moment in your life!”

I didn’t really know why I couldn’t stop the tears but I did know I was crying tears of relief.  The previous six years had been spent in denial, in a battle with myself, a battle with my ideals and ideologies. I thought I was weak if I went on insulin, or took a pill or worse, that one or the other would kill me. And now the choice had been made for me and I could only go with the flow. I didn’t have to be perfect anymore. I could just be me.

I gave myself my first shot in the CDE’s office. I didn’t want to try it on my own in case something went wrong. The CDE was caring and sweet, sharing with me that I hadn’t done anything wrong. I was blameless and innocent. That I managed diabetes for so long without help was a credit to my willpower and because of that she was confident that I could manage whatever came my way.

It’s been six months since I started taking insulin, and my life has completely transformed. I meet every challenge head on with grace and determination. I’ve made new friends and learned so much about my condition. I was so deep in denial, I’d never bothered to educate myself before. Today, through daily yoga practice I maintain my focus and determination. I’ve come to accept the diabetes and be gentle with myself. And I’m ready to tell the world that no herbs, diets, or exercises will cure diabetes. Insulin is not a perfect cure, but it is necessary for survival.

Rachel Zinman was diagnosed with diabetes in 2008.  She’s been practicing yoga for over thirty years and writes the blog Yoga For Diabetes.  You can find out more about Rachel’s yoga teaching here

 

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Comments (6)

  1. Ann at

    Ironically, Rachel, a lot of type2 wait years before they go on medication, without it being about holistic approaches. Doctors just let it coast along and patients become afraid to follow-up and that A1c continues to climb up the scale.

    I am in your camp, though. I could not agree more that the holistic community does not understand chronic conditions well, at all. Blogging on research has helped me to stop the hemorrhage of misconception about what diabetes is and is not and also the perspective of building bridges between conventional medicine and integrated therapy and how the two can keep people from having complications, like neuropathy, etc. I have had t1 for 45 years and I attribute my overall good health to my integrated approach. My dexcom tells the story for times when I’ve had acupuncture for fluctuating blood sugar, or meditation for stress reduction. It’s completely fascinating to me.

  2. A wonderful and honest article Rachel. Thanks so much for sharing your journey. You’re an inspiration!

  3. katy at

    I am so grateful to A Sweet Life for publishing this and other excellent pieces about LADA.

    I have LADA too, diagnosed 2 years ago, and so far have been able to not use insulin. There is a powerful illusion of control: it’s my low carb diet. It’s my gluten-free diet. It’s because I’m so active. I’m keeping it away.

    Reading about your experience is such a relief.

  4. Tracey at

    This is a very thoughtful, caring article. I do take issue, however, with the fact that in the article there is no clarification between Type 1 diabetes and Type 2 diabetes. You state that you were finally diagnosed as Type 1, in which case, the body stops producing the insulin required to process the blood sugars. But Type 2 diabetes is considered adult-onset because it develops based on lifestyle choices. This is considered a metabolic syndrome and is heavily influenced by inflammation in the body. Stating so matter-of-factly that medicine is the only thing that will help diabetes is, at best, inaccurate. Type 2 diabetes responds very well to food and lifestyle modifications, but Type 1 does not, as in your case. I would go so far as to say that it is irresponsible to write this without making the distinction clear.

  5. Dan at

    I agree with Tracey above. Diet, exercise, and some herbs can be very effective for reversing type 2 diabetes. This piece is misleading. The real point here is that sometimes what looks like type 2 could really be type 1. This is an exception and not the rule. The vast majority of diabetes is type 2 and lifestyle changes are a cure.

  6. Priyanka Ingle at

    Dear Rachel,
    I am happy that you have overcome the tough time and are enjoying the life as it should be!
    I am a Physician researcher trained in Traditional Indian medicine, Ayurveda, and doing further research in US now. Ayurveda clearly states that “prameha” including diabetes (T2D/T1D) is “yapya/asadhya” which means there is no cure, although there are ways to maintain the health as per the disease state. Also major fundamentals of Ayurveda treatment are cleansing methods, which must be performed word by word from the texts.
    I say all this as, I don’t want anyone to think that this practice ever claims to cure diabetes. Especially T1D is mentioned as “asadhya” ie incurable, but again, there are treatment which a physician can make the life easy.
    The magical/mystical aura surrounding Ayurveda makes it less of a science and more of a fiction. As a scientist working in T1D I know that not all drugs screened for a disease work, which is the case with any other form of medicine, hence the rigorous R&D.
    All those people who claim about “cure” probably do more harm than good to this science which can contribute to mainstream science and public health vastly!

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