With rapid urbanization and a marked shift towards the ‘modern’ lifestyle there has been a dramatic rise of lifestyle diseases in recent decades. Diabetes and stress disorders are now recognized as a growing threat, but most of us see them as distinctly separate problems. As we learn more through studies and reports however, it becomes apparent that the problems are often connected. While mental stress is not necessarily a cause for diabetes, it increases the risk of chronic disorders such as diabetes. A vicious cycle in many ways, diabetes also increases feelings of stress and anxiety because of its huge impact on quality of life. With all of its ancient wisdom, Ayurveda offers us some good insights into the role of stress in diabetes and also gives us valuable solutions.
The Vicious Cycle of Diabetes and Stress
Ayurvedic medicine has long recognized the impact of stress on human health and wellbeing, regarding it as a major risk factor in the development of various diseases. Described in classical texts as sahasa, stress is said to first affect the body by causing ojahksaya (weakened immunity), making you vulnerable to infections as well as chronic diseases. Those who are at risk or suffer from diabetes need to be particularly careful to limit their exposure to stress and to make it more equipped to cope with stress. Healthy eating and adequate sleep are regarded as essential in this regard. Adherence to other Ayurvedic guidelines, such as dinacharya or daily routine, which includes the daily practice of yoga and meditation, is prescribed as counter to both stress and diabetes. Rasayana herbs or rejuvenatives are also recommended to patients who suffer from diabetes and stress, as they can help the body cope with stress and promote relaxation. Many of these Ayurvedic herbs and supplements are now proven to help in the management of stress and anxiety disorders, helping lower the risk or impact of diabetes.
While the connection between diabetes and stress has already been alluded to in Ayurveda, modern research has helped affirm these views, also shedding more light on the connection. We now know that an increase in levels of cortisone, the stress hormone, raises blood sugar levels. It’s a two-way street however, as individuals with diabetes are also more vulnerable to stress and depression because of the amount of medical care required. If not dealt with appropriately, this can exacerbate the problem as individuals who suffer from stress and depression are also more likely to neglect their health. There are many important Ayurvedic tips for stress relief you can learn about.
Managing Diabetes Stress with Ayurveda
1. Herbal Medications
Fresh herbs, herbal supplements, and polyherbal medications have an important role to play in any Ayurvedic treatment plan for diabetes. While most of the herbs used to treat diabetes are known for the hypoglycemic and hypolipidaemic effects, many of them are also effective in the management of stress. Not only do they have a calming and relaxing effect on the mind, but they also help to protect the body from stress induced damage. Ashwagandha for example, which is known to help control blood sugar levels and lower cholesterol, has also been shown to provide natural relief from anxiety in several clinical studies. Similarly, studies have found that the antidiabetic herb guduchi can help to lower stress and improve cognitive function. Ayurvedic therapies therefore work at multiple levels, which is why they are increasingly regarded as beneficial and useful in the management of lifestyle diseases like diabetes.
2. Yoga Meditation
Yoga is another important component in Ayurvedic therapies for diabetes, with specific yoga practices and asanas regarded as helpful. In addition to the practice of asanas and pranayamas, meditation is highly recommended for diabetic patients. While the practice of yoga has been shown to improve endocrinal and metabolic functions, improving treatment outcomes, yoga again works at different levels. It is widely regarded as one of the most effective natural methods of stress reduction, making it particularly useful in managing both stress and diabetes, whether they exist independently or not.
A review of controlled trials published in the Journal of Diabetes Research presents overwhelming evidence to support the use of yoga as a natural therapy for diabetes. Today, yoga is also recommended to patients receiving conventional medical care.
3. Ayurvedic Lifestyle Interventions
Dinacharya, which is the Ayurvedic practice of a regimented daily routine, may also help in the management of diabetes and stress. Although the practice has been largely ignored by most of us today, it is advisable to adhere to dinacharya as closely as possible; strict adherence may not be feasible because of the demands of modern work and lifestyles. Although research is yet to reveal any direct impact on diabetes, it has become increasingly clear that concepts of time management emphasized in dinacharya have an impact on anxiety and stress levels.
Additionally, the practice of abhyanga, an Ayurvedic massage with herbal oils, has also been shown to lower stress levels in some studies.
The relationship between stress and diabetes is one that is easy to overlook but highly consequential. Ayurveda gives us a clear path forward, especially if you are looking for natural solutions to manage the risk and lower the impacts of both stress and diabetes on your life.
Arora, Deepa et al. “Stress – management : leads from ayurveda.” Ancient science of life vol. 23,1 (2003): 8-15.
Pratte, Morgan A et al. “An alternative treatment for anxiety: a systematic review of human trial results reported for the Ayurvedic herb ashwagandha (Withania somnifera).” Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.) vol. 20,12 (2014): 901-8. doi:10.1089/acm.2014.0177
Mishra, Rachana et al. “Tinospora cordifolia ameliorates anxiety-like behavior and improves cognitive functions in acute sleep deprived rats.” Scientific reports vol. 6 25564. 5 May. 2016, doi:10.1038/srep25564
Raveendran, Arkiath Veettil et al. “Therapeutic Role of Yoga in Type 2 Diabetes.” Endocrinology and metabolism (Seoul, Korea) vol. 33,3 (2018): 307-317. doi:10.3803/EnM.2018.33.3.307
Innes, Kim E, and Terry Kit Selfe. “Yoga for Adults with Type 2 Diabetes: A Systematic Review of Controlled Trials.” Journal of diabetes research vol. 2016 (2016): 6979370. doi:10.1155/2016/6979370
Ghiasvand, Arezoo Mohamadkhani et al. “Relationship between time management skills and anxiety and academic motivation of nursing students in Tehran.” Electronic physician vol. 9,1 3678-3684. 25 Jan. 2017, doi:10.19082/3678
Basler, Annetrin Jytte. “Pilot Study Investigating the Effects of Ayurvedic Abhyanga Massage on Subjective Stress Experience.” The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, vol. 17, no. 5, 2011, pp. 435–440., doi:10.1089/acm.2010.0281.
Dr. (Mrs.) Surya Bhagwati (BAMS, DHA, DHHCM, and DHBTC) is the lead Ayurvedic physician at Dr. Vaidya’s. She is a qualiﬁed Ayurvedic practitioner who brings a wealth of experience spanning over 25 years in the science. Prior to Dr. Vaidya’s, she has worked at the prestigious Saifee Hospital in Mumbai where she still continues her association in a consulting capacity. Her expertise lies in the prevention of chronic ailments.