Chinese Herbs for Diabetes You Should Know About

Picture of two hands holding a blood-sugar measuring device.

Diabetes is a chronic metabolic disorder that affects primarily people in the wealthiest areas of the world, followed by people in developing countries. Diabetes mellitus is the most widespread type of this condition, with a prevalence of more than 95% of the cases.

Type II diabetes is caused largely by an inadequate diet and a lack of physical activity that leads to hyperglycemia and an incapability to correctly use insulin, while type I diabetes is caused by the inability to produce insulin, which also leads to elevated levels of glucose in the blood.

In Chinese traditional medicine, diabetes is known as xiao ke, or Wasting and Thirsting Syndrome. It is caused by a Yin Deficiency along with a Heat pathogen affecting the Spleen (Chinese gut), Liver, and Kidneys. Yin Deficiency can manifest with lethargy, weakness, and a pale complexion, among other symptoms. 

The most common symptoms of type II diabetes are excessive thirst, hunger, an increase in urination, and weight loss. These symptoms along with their cause can be ameliorated by correcting dietary and lifestyle habits together with supplementation of Chinese herbs for diabetes. 

Table of Contents

Insulin Resistance 

Preceding the onset of type II diabetes, blood glucose levels begin to rise and are above normal, but still below diabetes values. Just as blood glucose levels change, insulin levels also change. Health professionals often refer to the state of prediabetes as insulin resistance.

Unlike what happens in diabetes, prediabetes does not usually show classic symptoms such as thirst, increased urinary volume, and hunger. The most common symptoms at this stage are:

    • Dark spots with a velvety appearance where skin touches with skin (such as the neck, thighs, and armpits).

    • Sharp weight swings up or down.

    • Difficulty healing minor injuries (such as cuts and scrapes).

Prediabetes is a multifactorial health condition, that is, it needs several causes to settle in an individual. People often discover they are prediabetic during routine check-ups. However, since it is a health problem that precedes diabetes, its causes are virtually the same:

    • Overweight and obesity

    • Family history

    • Sedentary lifestyle

    • Hormonal changes

    • Consumption of foods rich in carbohydrates

In order for prediabetes diagnosis to be made correctly, laboratory tests are required. 

Treating Xiao Ke Syndrome

According to Chinese medicine, the xiao ke syndrome is characterized by a deep imbalance of three vital organs, the Spleen, the Liver, and the Kidney.

The disharmony of these three fu is aggravated by the deficiency of the Spleen, which does not produce enough Blood (the nutritive aspect). Since the Spleen is directly responsible for the good functioning of the Lung, the latter also becomes deficient.  

Xiao ke translates as “consumptive thirst”, referring to the deficiency of yin in this syndrome that causes the yang which is warm to acquire a drying aspect and consume the organic fluids.

In Chinese medicine it is understood that the unrestricted consumption of alcohol, as well as sugary and greasy foods, as well as leading a sedentary lifestyle, are the causes for developing this condition. Emotional disturbances are also considered a contributing cause.

Patients suffering from xiao ke are usually overweight or obese. TCM’s treatment protocol is aimed at correcting patterns of disharmony between the zangfu and other areas of deficiency in an individualized basis.

The first step, however, would be adopting the recommendations laid out by the traditional Chinese therapeutic diet. In this system, the energetic properties of foods, rather than their nutritional content, determine their therapeutic effectiveness.

Some of the foods indicated for patients suffering from Xiao Ke Syndrome are:

    • Spinach: refreshing. strengthens the organs, quenches thirst, and stimulates urination.

    • Bamboo shoots and bok choy: have a Cooling effect.

    • Celery: tones the Kidneys and reduces the Heat.

    • Winter melon: very effective in regulating the sugar levels in the blood.

    • Bitter melon: has a Cooling effect and helps to expel Heat, sharpen vision, and reduce inflammation. 

    • Fenugreek: recommended at fast in order to reduce sugar levels after meals.

    • Cranberries: remove toxins from the Blood, clear Heat, dissolve Kidney stones, and open the Lungs.

In addition to adapting dietary habits, patients who have been diagnosed with xiao ke must adopt a physical exercise routine. The union of these two recommendations is effective for weight reduction and consequently regression of the disease.

In places like China and Japan, integrated medical approaches in which allopathic methods are applied alongside acupuncture and herbal formulas are commonly available in many health institutions.

The treatment with acupuncture, along with an appropriate diet and exercise can help to improve the symptoms of xiao ke syndrome.

About Chinese Formulas and Single-herb supplements

Traditional Chinese herbs have been used for centuries as natural remedies for many health conditions, including diabetes.

There are a variety of herbal formulas in the Chinese system that have traditionally been utilized in the treatment of xiao ke over hundreds of years. The formulas for diabetes always require a prescription. 

Some single-herb supplements, however, can serve as an aid for those who are already undergoing treatment or going through a lifestyle shift. 

Although supplementing with oriental herbs can be a tricky choice since their effects and sometimes origin are unknown, Chinese herbs are not a complete novelty in the West, and there is an increasing body of evidence supporting the use of Chinese herbs.

Many of these herbs are extremely well-tolerated and present almost null adverse-effect incidence rates. 

Yin Xing Ye – Gingko Biloba 

Although gingko biloba leaf extract contains over 60 bioactive compounds it is not necessarily a superstar in the Chinese pharmacopeia due to the large number of herbs whose benefits surpass those of gingko. In TCM it belongs to the “herbs that relieve coughing and wheezing” category.

On the pro side, gingko biloba has been broadly utilized and investigated in the West, and even major health institutions such as the Mayo Clinic endorse the use of this herb for certain conditions. 

Gingko extract can be easily purchased over-the-counter at almost any pharmacy worldwide. It can be found in many forms such as capsules, tinctures, tablets, and even infusions. 

It can be safely said that gingko biloba is well tolerated by most healthy adults. In spite of the lack of interest from the Chinese, many scientific studies have found that gingko biloba can aid in the treatment of type II diabetes and there appears to be no interactions between metformin and gingko biloba leaf extract. 

The traditionally recommended daily dose for the leaves is 9 – 12 grams, which can be either prepared in an infusion or grinded into a powder and ingested in pills. Different gingko extracts may have different dosage specifications stipulated by the manufacturers according to the law. 

Pu Gong Ying – Dandelion

Dandelion is so common that it grows in the wild almost everywhere in the world. There’s no question about the tolerance and toxicity of dandelion.

Although extremely common, not many people are aware of the amazing health benefits dandelion leaves and roots have. Nowadays it is treated like an unwanted weed in many places in the West. 

The aerial parts of the dandelion plant are rich in minerals, in fact it contains a bigger concentration of calcium than cow milk. It’s also abundant in potassium and contains considerable amounts of other trace minerals. 

Dandelion greens are also rich in vitamins, such as vitamine C, A, B, and D. Traditionally dandelion has been used as a diuretic that also replenishes the electrolytes. In Chinese medicine the roots are used to detoxify the liver and gallbladder. 

There’s evidence that the entire dandelion plant has compounds which can reduce blood-glucose levels, besides offering other benefits as well. 

The traditional daily dosage of dandelion ranges from 9 to 30 grams. The fresh plant in larger doses is preferred for conditions such as diabetes.

Ren Shen – Ginseng

Ginseng root has a long history of medicinal use in China, dating back 5,000 years. It was introduced to Europe in the 9th Century by Arab merchants and has been included in both Arabian and European pharmacopeia ever since.

Currently, wild-growing ginseng plants are incredibly scarce, with their natural habitat being limited to small areas in Russia and China. In contrast, cultivated ginseng has experienced a significant increase in production in recent decades, with China being the largest producer.

In the Chinese traditional medicine system, ginseng is found in the group of herbal medicines that tone the qi, more specifically the yuan qi. It is the primary herbal supplement recommended in the treatment of the gastrointestinal system in cases of weakness.

Ginseng contain saponins called ginsenosides that can benefit metabolism and lower blood glucose levels. It’s generally well-tolerated and currently it is possible to purchase different qualities of ginseng over-the-counter in most pharmacies. 

The traditionally recommended dose of the dry root if 15 to 30 grams in decoction daily. This dosage vary according to factors such as the age of the plant. The dosage for the extract may vary from brand to brand. 


Chinese medicine therapeutic principles can be an effective way of managing diabetes symptoms without relying solely on Western medications. However, it is important to monitor your progress closely while using them alongside your regular diabetes treatment plan.

Speak with your doctor before beginning any herbal treatments.

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