Diabetes affects nearly 38 million Americans, and another 96 million have prediabetes, which greatly increases risk of developing diabetes in the future.
With these kinds of stats, it’s no wonder so many people think that diabetes is inevitable and a natural part of aging. This saddens me!
In Ayurveda, diabetes is a very well-studied and understood condition. In the ancient texts, there is a condition referred to as Prameha, and it includes clinical scenarios that are akin to our modern classification of prediabetes, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. There wasn’t simply one variation of these conditions, but rather 20 different types of Prameha. This means that ancient Ayurvedic physicians approached diabetes as 20 different conditions rather than just one homogenous disease.
Although the Kapha dosha is most often involved in the development of diabetes, any of the three doshas can ultimately lead to diabetes, and the path it takes can vary considerably. Also, at different stages of diabetes, a different dosha can be impacted—so the way in which you address diabetes can shift from the onset compared to later stages.
(If you don’t know your dosha and would like to figure it out, take this quiz.)
In general, when an Ayurvedic practitioner approaches diabetes, the first consideration is which dosha is out of balance. Once this assessment is made, then prescriptions are given for diet, lifestyle, herbal therapies and purification techniques to help reverse the specific imbalance and prevent it from progressing any further.
Since type 2 diabetes is a major issue in the modern world and is mainly due to a blockage of the channels in the body and mind, leading to the specific dosha imbalance, I want to share some general recommendations on how to open up these channels and remove the underlying obstruction.
# 1: Intermittent Fasting
In my experience, there’s no quicker way to get your blood sugar under control than by implementing intermittent fasting. This is an ancient Ayurvedic principle that is being supported more and more through current medical research.
A 2021 meta-analysis found that intermittent fasting can effectively reduce weight, fasting glucose and insulin levels, increase insulin sensitivity, and decrease levels of leptin—a hormone that signals when you should stop eating because you’re full.
Intermittent fasting doesn’t mean you have to go for days without eating. In fact, there are several ways to fast. Two of the most popular ways are to:
- Eat as normal five days a week, and very low-calorie the other two days (500–600 calories total)
- Every day, limit your eating to an 8-hour window and fast the other 16 hours
This may seem challenging, but a good first step to successful intermittent fasting is to only eat when the sun is out. Once the sun has set, stop eating food and drinking beverages (other than water and decaffeinated, sugar-free herbal teas and supplements). Wait for the sun to rise before you eat again.
If this feels like too big of a first step, then begin with no food or water after 10:00 pm and each week push that time back by one hour until you hit your sunset goal. If you live in a geographical area where the sun sets really early in the winter, aim for eating before 6:00 pm during that season.
#2: Take Triphala Before Bedtime
One of my all-time favorite herbs for diabetes (and just about everything) is triphala. Detoxification and gut health are core concepts for managing diabetes, and triphala helps to address both of these.
Triphala contains amla, which is one of its three main ingredients. Amla is one of the key foods/herbs for preventing and managing diabetes.
Amla has all the tastes in it, except for salty, which is why it is balancing for all three doshas no matter which one is the main culprit in causing diabetes. Amla is rich in many different nutrients, including chromium and vitamin C, which are both important in the management of diabetes. Amla is also a powerful antioxidant, and oxidative stress plays a role in the development of diabetic complications.
Beyond its biomedical make-up, Ayurveda recognizes amla’s overall rejuvenating impact on the body and its ability to increases ojas. In addition to the traditional uses of amla for diabetes, medical research also supports these ancient claims that amla lowers blood sugars in people with diabetes.
The typical starting dose for triphala is 1,000–2,000 mg at bedtime. You can use the tablets or add warm water to the powder form and take it before bedtime.
If you have diabetes and you know that you have excess Kapha, you can also add 500 mg of guggul to your evening triphala dose until your blood sugars normalize.
If you have a strong family history of diabetes and generally struggle with a Kapha imbalance, add 500 mg of guggul to your triphala in late winter and spring to help prevent the onset of diabetes. Winter and spring are the times of the year that Kapha tends to accumulate in the body and begins planting the seeds for future problems with blood sugar.
#3: Make Lunch Your Biggest & Heaviest Meal of the Day
Sometimes the simplest steps are the most powerful, and this little daily tweak is a very significant step towards diabetes control. It doesn’t require you to change what you are eating but only when you are eating.
Shifting your biggest meal to lunch has immediate health benefits. You will wake up feeling clearer, lighter and more energetic within a few days.
Your meat, sugary sweets, dairy products, oily foods and anything else that is heavy on your digestion should all be part of your lunchtime meal. If you can’t make this shift all at once, aim for doing it once a week and slowly work up to five times a week. If you want to schedule social dinners over the weekend, you can take a break for weekend social events and then come back to this diabetes-busting habit on Mondays.
#4 Reduce Stress & Find Hormonal Balance
Women’s hormonal health impacts the risk for diabetes. Perimenopause and menopause are a time when many women begin to struggle with blood sugar balance and healthy weight. One of the main culprits is estrogen dominance, which is exacerbated by stress and high cortisol levels, which lead to unhealthy blood sugar levels.
Here are three ways to combat high stress, high cortisol and estrogen dominance to bring your blood sugar and weight back into balance:
- Meditate for 20 minutes a day. There is no pill or herb that has the global health benefits of a 20-minute daily meditation routine.
- Walk daily. Walking is one of the few exercises that helps to reduce cortisol levels. You don’t have to take a long walk all at once. You can break your walking routine up into small sessions throughout the day. If you’re currently not walking at all, start with 2,500 steps a day, then increase to 5,000 steps daily and slowly aim for 10,000. My favorite way to get my steps in is to take a short walk (anywhere from 5–20 minutes depending on my schedule) after every meal. Short walks after meals not only helps you get in your daily steps in bite-size pieces, it also supports healthy digestion, which helps keep your blood sugar in balance.
- Take ashwagandha. I routinely place many of my patients who are in perimenopause or menopause on ashwagandha for its ability to return cortisol back to healthy levels. For Vata and Kapha individuals, taking higher doses of ashwagandha (1,000 mg–2,000 mg twice a day) is usually well tolerated. For Pitta individuals, start at a lower dose (500 mg twice a day) and pair it with a cooling herb like Brahmi, which reduces some of the heating effects of the herb.
Seeds of Wisdom
Even though many diseases like diabetes are becoming common in modern life, it does not mean that disease is normal and inevitable with age. Type 2 diabetes is predominantly a lifestyle-induced disorder, so the good news is that the power to control it is very much in your own hands.
Changing certain aspects of your daily routine can have a significant impact in reversing diabetes and even preventing it before it begins. Knowing your dosha, which helps you to customize your diabetes management, ensures even greater success.
Wisdom is powerful and Ayurveda has a large body of wisdom around the management and prevention of diabetes, which is now being validated by modern research. These ancient interventions are affordable or free—you don’t have to pay anyone to take a walk or begin intermittent fasting.
Becoming self-empowered in the management of conditions like diabetes shifts your experience from feeling helpless about a diagnosis to feeling enabled to control your body.