Xiao-Ke: “Wasting and Thirsting” Disease and The TCM Treatment of Diabetes

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For thousands of years, practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM, have recognized a disease which they call “wasting and thirsting” disease (xiao-ke, in Chinese). This condition corresponds to one of the subtypes of the disease known as diabetes in Western medicine.

Subtypes of Xiao-Ke

“Wasting and thirsting” disease is divided into three categories in TCM, according to the major symptoms: excessive thirst, excessive hunger, and excessive urination. However, practitioners generally accept that most patients will have a mixture of these symptoms. In TCM, xiao-ke is attributed to the excessive consumption of fatty or sweet foods, emotional disturbances, and to a “Yin deficiency” – which means that there is not enough of the cool and nourishing energy (called “Yin”), in comparison to the “Yang” energy, which is characteristically hotter and more “active.”

The Yin Yang symbol illustrates the ancient Chinese concepts of intertwined dualities. Image by Mnmazur

Diagnosing “Wasting and Thirsting” Disease

An ancient Chinese method of detecting diabetes was recommended in the Chinese medical classic, “A Collection of Diseases,” written by Wang Shou and published in 752 A.D. Using this method, the patient urinated on a wide, flat brick. If ants gathered to collect the sugar, the practitioner determined that the patient had diabetes.  A remarkably similar method of measuring the amount of sugar in the urine was invented by Richard Thomas Williamson in the mid-nineteenth century. Contemporary Western medicine likewise measures the level of blood sugar in order to diagnose diabetes.

Treating Diabetes With Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners recommend a combination of acupuncture, diet, exercise, herbs, and moxybustion as a treatment for the type of diabetes known as xiao-ke.

In the beginning, the patient is treated with acupuncture daily or every other day. Moxibustion is the process of holding a burning stick of dried herbs to apply heat over a concentrated area. In addition, practitioners commonly prescribe a dietary supplement, consisting of a mixture of 60% wheat bran and 40% all-purpose whole wheat flour, combined with vegetable oil, eggs, and vegetables; eaten in small quantities at every meal.

The list of ingredients used in the supplement includes bamboo shoots, bok choy, celery, corn silk, millet, mung beans, mushrooms, pearl barley, pumpkin, snow peas, soybeans, spinach, sprouts, string beans, sweet potatoes, rice, tomatoes, turnips, water chestnuts, minter melon, and wheat bran.

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