Mind your diabetes

TCM offers food remedies to help treat syndromes that can be traced to the disease

Food remedy: Stir-fry 350g of cabbage with 30g of black fungus. The fungus has to be soaked till it is soft and cut into pieces before it is cooked.
Food remedy: Stir-fry 350g of cabbage with 30g of black fungus. The fungus has to be soaked till it is soft and cut into pieces before it is cooked.PHOTOS: CLEMENT NG

Diabetes is a growing problem here. As many as one in three Singaporeans will develop this metabolic disease by the time they reach 69.

Type 2 diabetes, which is far more common, occurs when the body fails to produce enough insulin or is unable to use it properly. Type 1 diabetes arises when the pancreas does not make insulin.

While type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented, one can guard against or control type 2 diabetes by modifying his lifestyle.

However, in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), physicians do not categorise diabetes in this way. 


Dr Clement Ng, a volunteer TCM physician with the diabetes clinic in Singapore Chung Hwa Medical Institution, said uncontrolled diabetes is commonly known as xiaoke (translated as emaciation-thirst).

TCM practitioners typically classify diabetes into three types: upper, middle and lower xiaoke.

The upper type is characterised by excessive thirst, the middle by excessive hunger, and the lower by excessive urination.

At some point in their illness, most people with diabetes manifest symptoms of all three types.

Dr Ng said that diabetes is linked to various factors: a diet of excess fat and sugar, which causes "heatiness" in the body; emotional disturbances, such as depression; a weak body constitution; and other environmental factors.

Five common syndromes can be traced to diabetes:


•Causes: Exposure to a hot and humid environment and excessive consumption of fried and spicy food, which causes heat to build up in the body. Taking too much cold food and drinks also weakens the spleen and results in dampness.

•Symptoms: Thirst with no desire to drink, hunger with no desire to eat, a bitter taste in the mouth, a general feeling of heaviness of the body, and a tongue with a thick, yellow and greasy coating. Patients may also have dark- coloured urine and a rapid pulse.

•Food remedy: Cook 100g of celery with 250g of tofu in vegetable oil. Add some green onions, ginger and corn flour,

as well as salt and sesame oil to taste.


•Causes: A body constitution weak from childbirth or ageing, inadequate rest and a preference for "heaty" food.

•Symptoms: A dry throat and mouth, thirst with a desire for cold beverages, constipation and frequent hunger pangs that lead to overeating. The person may perspire abnormally at night, have warm palms and feet or have little or no coating on the tongue.

•Food remedy: Cook porridge with 50g of cooked rice and 100g to 150g of spinach.


•Causes: This double whammy occurs in the later stages of diabetes, when unchecked "heatiness" in the body depletes both qi (vital energy) and yin (the element that cools organs).

•Symptoms: Excessive thirst, fatigue, shortness of breath, a reluctance to speak, heart palpitations, insomnia, and warm sensation in palms and soles.

•Food remedy: Cook soup with 20g of black fungus, 50g of lean meat and 10 wolfberries. Add ginger and onion to taste.


•Causes: A prolonged yin deficiency will lead to a yang deficiency. For instance,

a person who speaks often would deplete his yin through the loss of salivary fluids and eventually stop the physical activity of talking, which is represented by yang (the element linked to heat).

•Symptoms: Dry mouth, fear of the cold, aching back and knees, frequent night-time urination, dizziness and a tongue with a thick coating that is etched with teeth marks. The person's heart palpitations or insomnia will be worse than those with deficiencies in qi and yin.

•Food remedy: Stir-fry 300g of enokitake mushrooms with 100g of pork. Add spring onions, salt and sesame oil as desired.


•Causes: Untreated chronic diseases will damage the collaterals, which are branches of meridians (channels through which qi flows) in the body.

A prolonged lack of qi, yin and yang will lead to numbness and, eventually, sharp painful sensations within the body.

•Symptoms: Pain in the chest, waist or back, and diabetic complications that involve the small blood vessels, such as numbness of the feet.

The person's tongue may appear dull and the lips may have a bluish tinge.

Heart palpitations and insomnia may occur.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 11, 2015, with the headline 'Mind your diabetes'. Print Edition | Subscribe