Diabetes and Yoga

Diabetes was first recorded in 1500 BC on a papyrus describing polyuria (excessive urination). It is noted in the Indian ayurvedic text Susruta, written in 400 BC, as a case of honey in the urine (madhu-meh). In the West, Willis first noted the sweetness of diabetic urine in the 7th century. Today there are from two to three hundred million diabetes cases in the world and possibly an equal number of undetected, symptom-free diabetics.

Though diabetes is primarily a lack of insulin from the pancreas in relation to the amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood, it affects the whole endocrine system causing hormonal imbalance, blood vessel involvement, imbalance in the metabolism of fat, nerve damage and so on, Psychological factors also play an important role in triggering diabetes. Three hundred years ago Willis stated that diabetes could be caused by 'prolonged sorrow'. Indians and Egyptians have known for millennia about the role of the emotions in disturbing the intricate and delicate balance of insulin with growth hormone, free fatty acids, glucagon, catecholamines, corticosteroids, oestrogen, thyroxin and so on. Lack of physical exercise and sedentary habits are also contributing factors.

Diabetes mellitus is a big problem today for both doctor and patient. Modern medicine is doing a lot of research into cure for this disease, but as yet medical scientists have found no cure within their system. Research by doctors and scientists outside allopathy is showing that yoga brings about a definite positive response in diabetics, alleviating their condition.

In a paper entitled "Diabetes and Yoga" presented to the First Scientific Seminar of CCRIMH, Narain Varandani, M.Sc (Med), FCAI; Swami Anandananda and Dharmveer, MD (Med) have presented evidence to support yoga's role in the cure of diabetes. This research was done at the Yogic Treatment cum Research Centre, Bapunagar, Jaipur.

The Subjects

283 patients, representing a broad spectrum of diabetes ranging from mild maturity onset to severe and juvenile onset diabetes, spent three months at the Yogic Treatment cum Research Centre. They represented all socioeconomic groups and their age ranged from 14 to 68 years. The following data and information were tabulated.

  1. 30% of the cases were mild diabetes (fasting blood sugar up to 120 mg.%), 30% were moderate (up to 180 mg.%) and 40% were severe (greater than 180 mg.%).
  2. 9% of the patients were less than 20 years of age, 47% were 21 to 40 years, 41% were 41 to 60 years and only 3% were over 60 years old.
  3. 12% of the patients had had the disease for one year or less, 63% had been ill for 1 to 5 years, 17% from 5 to 10 years and 8% more than 10 years.
  4. 32% of the cases had a positive hereditary history (other family members with diabetes) and 68% had no history.
  5. Psychic factors were significant in causing the disease in 58% of cases while 42% had no detectable emotional factor.
  6. 85% had received some form of prior treatment without being controlled, while 15% did not.
  7. 31% had a post-meal blood glucose level of below 250 mg.%, 47% from 250 to 400 mg.% and 22% more than 400 mg.%.
  8. 23% left without finishing the full course of treatment.

The Experiment

Diet on admission to the centre was restricted to: 98 grams of fat, 400 grams of carbohydrate, 100 grams of protein, totaling 2900 calories.

Periodical testing was carried out on the subjects for the following parameters: body weight and measurements, complete urine examination, daily 24 hour urine sugar, fasting blood sugar (Folin Wu method), glucose tolerance test (75 gm. oral glucose), serum cholesterol, and EGG.

The patients performed the following yogic techniques; they practiced twice a day from 5 to 7 a.m. and 5 to 6:45 p.m.,

  1. Kunjal - vomiting 6 glasses of lukewarm saline water.
  2. Vastra dhauti - swallowing a long thin strip of muslin cloth and then removing it.
  3. Shankhaprakshalana - cleaning the whole digestive tract by drinking 24 glasses of warm saline water.
  4. Shukshma vyaydm - a pawanmuktasana - like series of asanas, nauli kriya, dhyan shakti vikasuk and kati shakti vikasuk (spinal exercises).
  5. Sthula vyayam - sarvanga pushti, utta kundan and engine daur.
  6. Asanas - padahastasana, janu sirshasana, pasthum uttanasana, ardha matsyendrasana, uttan padasana, shalabhasana, bhujangasana, chakrasana, dhanurasana, sarvangasana, halasana, mayurasana (said to be the best for diabetics), sirshasana, and shavasana (after each pose).

Results

After some time, when the patients reached normal limits of fasting blood sugar levels in the blood and normal tolerance to glucose (glucose tolerance test), a test meal was given containing extra carbohydrates like sugar, rice and potatoes in order to gauge their resistance and tolerance to this stress.

They found that 25% of the total 283 patients completely responded to yoga therapy and their blood glucose level reached normal limits with no sugar in the urine. Of these, 19 cases also received a 'test carbohydrate diet' which they could tolerate without any rise in blood sugar.

Another 27% showed great improvements in their blood and urine chemistry although they did not reach normal limits. Their symptoms were alleviated and they gave up all medication.

A further 25% did not respond to yoga therapy and biochemical abnormality persisted. These were either juvenile or long duration cases who were used to insulin injections over a long period, or the older age group who could not perform exercises properly.

Discussion

It was found that 58.3% of patients had some kind of psychic stress factor present prior to the detection of their diabetes. The typical personality noted in this group was that of a highly intelligent, sensitive and brooding nature. Some sort of maladjustment to the environment was also noted. This observation corresponds to those of Menninger (1935), Dunbar (1947), Weiss and English (1949), Hinkle et al. (1950), etc.

Psychic imbalance operates via the hypothalmic-pituitary-adrenal axis, resulting in hormonal imbalances like rise and fall in levels of glucose, fats (free fatty acids), steroids and catechola-mines causing cellular damage and structural alteration.

Patients were helped to remove the stress and tension from their lives by:

  1. Having a holiday from the site and circumstances of their stress.
  2. Regularization of their daily routine helped to induce tranquility by overcoming the vicious circle of worry and responsibility.
  3. A religious atmosphere and group prayers strengthened self confidence and peace of mind.
  4. Shatkarmas and asanas tranquillized the mind.
  5. Counseling and psychoanalysis by the swami-in-charge and doctor increased self understanding.

Results of Yoga Therapy

This study has shown that the value of yoga in treating diabetes cannot be over emphasized. 52% of the cases responded to yoga, a highly significant number. Half of these completely normalized their bodies and achieved a healthy state.

Those subjects who failed to respond over the three month period were either cases of 'juvenile' diabetes or long standing insulin-dependent diabetes. In both cases the body had adjusted to insulin from an external source, making the reversing and curing process more difficult. Also, organic damage may have occurred, in which case the diabetes is probably incurable. For these patients it is suggested that anti-diabetic drugs, insulin and yoga be combined to help reduce drug requirement, improve health and there-by delay the possible complications of the disease.

The importance of finding ways to cure diabetes and remove this suffering from our lives can't be overestimated. Prevention, though is better than cure, by avoiding mental stress, inculcating regular and proper dietary habits, and through regular and efficient exercise of body and mind. Yoga is very useful in both these areas. Alone or in combination with other systems it helps the patient to gain control over his body and mind, resulting in nervous and hormonal equilibrium and good health.