More than 3,000 years ago, ancient practitioners of Chinese medicine pioneered what we now call acupuncture treatment. In acupuncture, practitioners stimulate specific activation points on your body to treat different medical conditions. This is most commonly done by inserting tiny, sterile needles into those points. Modern acupuncture is becoming more and more popular to treat a variety of health conditions. The World Health Organization recognizes acupuncture as effective in treating more than 100 conditions. These conditions include chronic pain, migraine headaches, and even diabetes.

There’s still a lot we don’t know about how effective acupuncture is for treating diabetes symptoms. But some of the newest research seems to confirm that it’s at least safe and somewhat effective. One laboratory study indicated that acupuncture could help regulate your pancreas function and insulin levels. And clinical trials imply that the anti-obesity effect of acupuncture could work with traditional diabetes treatment to reduce the impact of some diabetes symptoms.

The acupuncture techniques recommended to treat type 1 and 2 diabetes vary dramatically, just as the treatments of Western medicine differ. These are two different diseases within the diabetes spectrum. Methods are prescribed according to which diabetes symptoms you wish to treat. There are acupuncture techniques to help with weight loss, metabolism, organ function, and nerve pain. One of the more vigorously studied acupuncture techniques that addresses diabetic neuropathy is the wrist-ankle treatment. The treatment involves deep stimulation of the wrist and ankle nerves.

May reduce feelings of pain

If you have diabetes, you probably know that the condition stems from your endocrine system. These are the hormones that trigger your organs to control your sugar levels. Those that tout the benefits of acupuncture treatment for diabetes cite the fact that acupuncture stimulates endorphins. Endorphins are, simply put, hormones that trigger positive feelings in your body and also block feelings of pain.

May help regulate sugar levels

Acupuncture may also regulate cortisol, which is a hormone signaling your body to feel stress. Practitioners of acupuncture treatment for diabetes believe that the hormone reaction triggered by acupuncture can help balance the parts of your body that aren’t able to regulate your sugar levels on their own. Additionally, they do this without the risk of harmful side effects, such as those of some pharmaceutical treatments.

In a 2017 review of research concerning acupuncture for diabetes, no serious side effects have been reported in any clinical trials. This would indicate that there are minimal risks associated with herbal acupuncture used as a treatment for diabetes. But that doesn’t mean this treatment is for everyone. There is no cure for diabetes, as the Mayo Clinic points out. And if you’re not able to manage your diabetes symptoms through diet and lifestyle choices, you will need insulin therapy regardless of alternative therapies you may seek out.

There are some general risks to acupuncture treatment that you should be aware of. Soreness, minor bleeding, and bruises where the needles are inserted are some of the most common side effects. Ensure that all needles are removed before you leave as that could have adverse effects. If you’re pregnant, have a blood disease such a hepatitis or HIV, or have a bleeding condition like hemophilia or vitamin K deficiency, acupuncture is probably not a good treatment option for you. Acupuncture done with sterile needles is relatively safe and is a far more evidenced-based and mainstream treatment than it was 20 years ago.

Getting acupuncture can involve the following:

  • At your initial appointment, your acupuncturist will consult with you about your specific diabetes symptoms.
  • You’ll be examined by your practitioner and asked some questions about your lifestyle, diet, pain levels, and health goals. You may also be asked questions about relationships, stress, and other areas of your life that have a holistic impact on your diabetes.
  • After this initial consultation, most treatments take 20 to 30 minutes, on average, and often longer. Your practitioner will most likely recommend that you start by going for treatments twice a week or so to see how your body reacts.

If things are going well, you can probably drop down to treatments that are only twice a month eventually.

Most people that get acupuncture treatments report that the treatment itself doesn’t hurt much — the needles feel like a lightly stinging sensation, and don’t hurt at all once they are in. After the needles are inserted, you will be left in a quiet room to relax while the treatment takes effect.

Always be sure your practitioner has been certified by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. An acupuncturist must be educated and trained rigorously to perform this treatment with success. Many traditional Chinese medical acupuncturists are also licensed medical doctors. Make sure that your appointment is conducted in sterile environment, as any deviation can spread disease and cause infection. Have realistic expectations for the appointment — you may feel better immediately afterward, or it may take several weeks to notice a difference in your diabetes symptoms.

If you’re seeing an acupuncturist for diabetes treatment, you should let the rest of your doctors know. They can help you monitor your symptoms and see if the treatments are having a positive effect. Don’t discontinue any drugs or supplements that your doctor has prescribed you simply because you feel the acupuncture is working. Diabetes treatment can be easily disrupted by abrupt treatment changes. If at any time the site of your acupuncture treatment appears infected or compromised, you should call your doctor right away and describe your symptoms.