Dr. Trogawa Rinpoche
Published in Thar Lam, April 2007, pages 62-63.
Let us look at the cause of diabetes according to the Tibetan medical sources. We will therefore need to discuss digestion more closely. There are two types. It is necessary to understand perception of taste that determines the process of digestion. Sweet foods are digested just as they are and remain sweet after having been consumed. Salty foods, on the other hand, turn sweet after having been consumed.During the initial stage of digestion, phlegm breaks down what has been consumed into many parts in the stomach. For this to occur, bile as well as the wind of fire must be balanced in the stomach. If any of these three factors are missing, food cannot be separated and coagulated properly. This process always involves the taste perception of sweet since the characteristic of phlegm is sweetness. It is the moment diabetes can set in.Digestion involves three physical organs: the diaphragm, pancreas, and spleen. An insufficient stomach digestion of food leads to a constant excess of sweet gastric juice in the body; in which case only a little will be expelled properly. The sweet gastric juice that has not been expelled - let us call it “sugar” – flows into the intestines. Since sugar is a water-soluble, it flows into the kidneys and bladder and is expelled from the body naturally. There is an excess of sugar in the kidneys and in the bladder in diabetics if healthy digestion falters. What happened? What follows? We saw the first steps and now will look at what can go wrong.Let us recall the three factors of wind, phlegm, and bile, the three states that result from them, and all combined, which makes seven fundamental characteristics that digestion must entail to be complete. When one or a few are not balanced, then a disorder arises, which is a disturbance. It is also important to check whether a parasite or an infection has caused a disturbance that brings on sickness and disease.Diabetes is a disturbance that sinks down in the body, so at first patients complain about feeling uncomfortable in the lower part of their body. During the second phase, the body reacts with digestive heat, which Tibetan sources define as an increase of bile. Excessive sugar is produced at this stage, that is retained in the kidneys and then flows into the liver. Sugar then enters the blood stream and blood sugar is the result.Diabetes was never thought of as a disease in the Tibetan tradition, but since it is so predominant in the West we looked through our ancient medical texts and found the following: In the section dealing with diseases of impure blood, a slight reference is made to what sounds like diabetes. Assuming that excess sugar mixes with bile, then it is a case of gallic diabetes, which rises in the body because heat has the tendency to rise. Another situation that occurs is dispersal, which sets in through excessive phlegm in the stomach and decreasing wind and bile. The body reacts by dispersing the phlegm, which flows into the joints. As a result, they swell. This form of rheumatism is called “sallow arthritis.” Excessive phlegm also causes asthma, which usually arises due to the flaring and dispersing nature of phlegm.Returning to diabetes, the next stage can vary immensely. When diabetes sinks into the kidneys, they become cold and cannot function properly, in turn disturbing the circulatory system. A chain reaction sets in, referred to as “cold blood” in Tibetan medicine. Cold blood can easily be detected in a urine test and through pulse diagnosis. If wind and phlegm simultaneously occur in the kidneys, then wind will dominate since phlegm stimulates wind. The diagnosis is then called “cold wind in the kidneys.”Generally, excessive acrid or pungent-tasting food harms the eyes. Someone who eats too much pungent food for a long time will eventually have a burning feeling around the stomach, often diagnosed as an ulcer. In this case it is important to know that sweet can turn sour.
Student: Which foods are harmful for patients afflicted with diabetes?Rinpoche: Sweets of every kind, which includes potatoes, sweet potatoes, roasted food, Tibetan tsampa, roasted wheat or corn, and popcorn are detrimental for diabetics. Tibetan doctors also tell their patients not to consume white rice. Anyone with only a tendency to develop diabetes may have brown rice cooked in lots of water, though. Cooked corn on the cob is very good for those suffering under diabetes. What do Western doctors say?
Student: I can’t say much about corn, but we recommend that our patients reserve one day for rice only, and usually it is a day of white rice.Rinpoche: Is there a difference between the rice and corn in the East and West?Student: European corn is much sweeter. Rice is mainly recommended for overweight patients because it flushes out deposits, so it seems to be a general point of view.
Rinpoche: Diabetics should not be too active nor too lazy. Those suffering from weak kidneys should not stand or may not sit too long at a stretch. They may not be pushed around when under stress.Question: You said that diabetics should not be overactive. Western doctors suggest that diabetics should take a long walk after each meal and exercise regularly. It has been proved that they need less insulin if they do. Furthermore, they should have smaller meals more often each day. Would you comment on that?Rinpoche: Yes, that is my opinion too. I also tell my diabetics patients to have many small meals stretched over the day. Physical exercise after a meal reduces the production of phlegm and therefore of sugar, the reason why patients need less insulin if they exercise after meals. I think a good walk after each meal will do.
Question: Tibetan medicine does not prescribe insulin. How would a Tibetan doctor treat a diabetics patient who, according to Western interpretation, would die without insulin?Rinpoche: We prescribe very strong medication that must be taken very often and at regular intervals during the day.
Question: Do diabetics who have been sick for a long time develop neuropathy that starts with a prickling feeling and numbness in fingers and toes and ends in extreme pain? Does the disease impair eyesight and eventually lead to blindness?Rinpoche: I have noticed that patients afflicted by diabetes for a long time do go blind. According to the Tibetan medical sources, this type of blindness arises from excessive phlegm that slowly spreads into the eyes.All neurological disorders are treated separately in the Tibetan tradition. Neurological injuries that are born from cold can have something to do with diabetes. A patient first has to have suffered the cold form of diabetes before his or her nerves are damaged and eventually destroyed.Thank you very much.
Translated from German & interpreted by Gaby Hollmann