I was quite surprised when I began searching for research on Tai Chi’s benefits for diabetes . . . it was very difficult to come by. Because on its face, Tai Chi seems to possibly offer many benefits to someone with diabetes. Tai Chi is known to stimulate microcirculation in practitioners, and is a highly effective stress management technique, and very gently burns a significant amount of calories. In fact, Tai Chi may actually help the body find homeostatic chemical levels. For example, in a study on sex hormones Tai Chi was found to have a “balancing effect” on the hormonal chemistry of participants, lowering the abnormally high estrogen levels in older men, while raising the abnormally low estrogen levels in older women.
These findings in other research led me to believe that there had probably been substantial research done on Tai Chi & Qigong’s benefits for those with diabetes, given that these findings in other studies at least initially suggest Tai Chi & Qigong may offer much to the diabetes patient. But, as I said, it doesn’t appear there is much out there in terms of “tai chi & qigong as an adjunct diabetes therapy,” at least from Western institutions.
However, a couple of Chinese medical institutions studies had very exciting results. A Beijing University of Chinese Medicine and Pharmacology study found that blood sugar could be lowered successfully by doing QiGong exercises. 42.9 percent of patients in the study were able to take less medicine while having more staple foods. Also, a Nanjing University study found that Tai Chi exercise helped to regulate metabolic disorder of type 2 diabetes mellitus with geriatric obesity by regulating the nervous-endocrine system in the body. So, why isn’t there more Western medical research on this?
Unfortunately, less than one half of one percent of NIH funding goes to research all alternative or “complimentary” health techniques. Meaning that yoga, meditation, herbology, homeopathy, etc. etc. all share that tiny, tiny slice of the NIH funding pie. Until the NIH provides adequate attention / funding for Tai Chi & Qigong (Chi Kung) research, many of the benefits people with various maladies have enjoyed from Tai Chi & Qigong will not be enjoyed by the millions of others with such conditions. Because physicians will lack the knowledge necessary to inform their patients of Tai Chi & Qigong as a possible viable therapeutic option, until adequate research is done.
Never the less, you might ask your doctor to do some research on this for you. But, for now, let’s look at current recommendations for diabetes therapy, and then compare Tai Chi benefits systematically to see if it might be a good therapeutic match for diabetes. As always, I remind everyone not to self-treat. These articles are meant to stimulate a dialogue between you and your physician, and your physician and medical research institutions to lobby on your behalf to get powerful natural health therapies like Tai Chi fully researched so that you have the maximum possible options for your health protocol.
In an article posted on Post Graduate Medicine Online, Dr.s Adam B. Mayerson, MD; Silvio E. Inzucchi, MD, state that “Diet, exercise, and the attainment of ideal body weight are the central components of any therapeutic [type 2 diabetes] regimen . . .”. Tai Chi is proven to be an effective exercise that not only provides cardiovascular benefit (roughly equal to moderate impact aerobics), but surprisingly given Tai Chi’s gentle low impact nature, burns a significant number of calories, in fact more than surfing, and nearly as much as downhill skiing. To achieve such caloric burning benefits, and cardiovascular benefits, with such a gentle exercise as Tai Chi may be important to those with diabetes.
The health site Top5plus5.com’s information on diabetes explained that the type of exercise a patient practices is crucial to their well being, stating “Patients with active diabetic retinopathy should not participate in exercises involving straining or heavy lifting since these activities can provoke eye damage. Patients should also be aware that nerve damage caused by high blood sugar levels can lead to a loss of sensation in the feet, with a subsequent increased risk of blistering and ulceration. Patients with progressive heart damage from high blood sugar should be warned about the risk of sudden heart failure and death.”
Tai Chi may offer promise regarding heart health so important to diabetes sufferers. On the 9th of October, 2004, BBC News - Saturday, reported “Tai Chi 'can treat heart failure.” The British Heart Foundation said the study was "excellent news" and Tai Chi could be adopted into treatment programmes in the UK in the future.” http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/3728174.stm
Again, one should never self-treat, and should always approach all possible therapies in conjunction with their physician. Our articles at World Tai Chi & Qigong Day are meant to stimulate discussion between you and your physician, and hopefully between your physician and health institutions. Our hope is that this will lead to a more realistic apportionment of medical research funding towards Tai Chi & Qigong (Chi Kung), and other natural health therapies. One caution is, we hope that researchers will approach Tai Chi & Qigong with a desire to find out “why it helps many people” rather than with an agenda to prove that it doesn’t work. The way that studies are done is just as important as if studies are done.
Our vision for the future is that physicians too, will begin to discover for themselves what Tai Chi and Qigong health technologies have to offer on a personal level as Tai Chi is increasingly offered through medical universities to aspiring nurses and physicians. The future of healthcare should not be a war between alternative therapies and standard therapies, but an expansion of standard therapies to include whatever works best for the patients. Many in the medical field are great advocates of such a vision, and World Tai Chi & Qigong Day celebrates their efforts.
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