How Diabetes Impacts Mental Health and Wellbeing
The speed at which we move through our days (work, mobiles, kids, home and even so-called leisure) reveals that our lives are primarily governed and bound more to the minute hand (not even the hour hand) on the fast-moving lifestyle watch. There literally is no time to take a deep breath and smell the roses – neither the inclination nor the understanding of how important it is to slow down and enjoy the journey rather than make haste and reach the destination!
Naturally, this pace of life is not sustainable and will result in physical and mental problems. Hypertension, heart issues, depression, high blood sugar are some of the disorders that are fast gaining chronic public health proportions.
Can mental stress cause diabetes?
Mental health, stress and diabetes as per Ayurveda
Ayurveda & Manas Shastra
Depression, Stress and diabetes as per Ayurveda
Ayurvedic treatment for diabetes stress and depression
- Achara Rasayana, mentioned in the Charak Samhita as well as Sushrut Samhita, prescribes a specific code of conduct (truth, meditation, charity, calmness etc.) lifestyle (avoidance of alcohol, hygiene etc.) and behaviors (refraining from anger, jealousy, envy, hatred etc.) that help rejuvenate the mind-body system. It constitutes the balanced use of sensory organs, non-violence and self-control and is considered a healthy routine to keep stress away.
- Aharika Rasayana promotes a nutritious and balanced dietary routine that consists of shad rasas/six tastes (Madhura/sweet), amla/sour, lavana/salty, katu/pungent, tikta/bitter and Kashaya/astringent), and is adapted as per desha/location, kala/climate, ritu/season, vaya/age and prakriti of the individual. If an individual has a specific disorder then dietary substances that are opposite to the vitiated doshas are advised. A balanced diet is considered the best Rasayana.
Ausadha Rasayana or herbal medicine is adopted only after Achara Rasayana and Ahasrika Rasayana are followed appropriately, to improve its effectiveness in managing physical disorders (such as Prameha) as well as mental ones (such as stress & depression). Rasayana drugs, which are specific to the disease (or even pre-disease) and tissues are given along with the treatment of the disease. This improves tissue strength and combat disease, which helps speed up recovery of the patient. For instance, a pre-diabetic person can be prescribed simple herbs like Gudduchi and Amalaki to help prevent Prameha/diabetes.
In addition to Rasayana tantra, Ayurvedic advice therapeutic management, aahar (diet), vihar (lifestyle) and aushadhi (medicinal herbs) to manage stress and diabetes.
Therapeutic management that includes Yuktivyapashraya or rational treatment
Internal purification or Antarparimarjana (shodhana/purification and shamana/pacification) to alleviate the imbalanced doshas.
External purification or Bahiraparimarjana (snehan/herbal oil massage & swedana/medicated steam to induce perspiration) to eliminate toxins and treat stress.
Aahar or specific diet recommended for diabetes and stress/depression
In addition to avoiding consumption of starchy and fatty food/pishta-snigdha anna-sevana, curd and jaggery (gud) products, cold (sheeta) and soft (snigdha) drinks that can aggravate the Kapha dosha to manage diabetes/Prameha, Ayurveda recommends consumption of specific diet for managing stress for a diabetic.
Ayurveda recommends eating gruel or cereal that is stored for a long time and easy to digest. Rice which should be hand-pounded. This is to be followed by barley/yava powder which is mixed with water for the next three days to get best results to manage stress.
- Vihar or lifestyle changes are highly beneficial in not just boosting physical health but also in improving mental health and reducing stress and depression
Regular exercise regimen – walking, running, swimming
Aushadhi or Herbal Medications for Diabetes
Stress and diabetes have long been recognized as real threats to health. Previously, diabetes and mental health were thought of as separate diseases, but it is becoming clear that they are in fact, interconnected. Mental stress, although not the only factor for causing high blood sugar, does increase the risk of diabetes (mainly Type II). And diabetics (either Type I or II) are 2-3 times more prone to feel depressed than those who do not have diabetes.
Ayurvedic science has long recognized the importance of holistic health – physical, mental and emotional – for all round and long term well being of individuals.
Ayurvedic texts compiled by masters such as Charak, Sushrut and Vagabhatta lay a lot of emphasis on mental health or Manas Shastra. The fundamental Ayurvedic principles believe that swasthya or complete well being has a deep mind-body link and is primarily based on each individual’s Prakriti which is formed at birth and is the combination of tridoshas (vata, pitta and kapha), three gunas or qualities (sattva, rajas and tamas) and the Panchamahabhutas (Prithvi/earth, Jal/Water, Agni/Fire, Vayu/Air, Akash/Space).
Of these, the three gunas define mental health and the spiritual nature of a person. Sattva defines intellect, morality, righteousness, and generates harmony. Raja is mainly the agent of change, action and chaos. Tama is responsible for causing dullness, darkness, depression, lethargy and inaction.
Every person has a unique balance of these three gunas which determines whether the person is of sound mental wellbeing. Any imbalance in these three gunas can lead to negativity or depression.
Modern medical research states that an increase in the levels of cortisol, also known as the stress hormone, raises blood sugar. Conversely, diabetics are more predisposed to depression and stress (diabetic patients worry about hypos – when the blood sugar level goes too low – this hypo anxiety and constant thinking about when it might happen can induce stress).
But, Ayurvedic medical wisdom has long understood that stress impacts health and is one of the main reasons for disease development. Ayurvedic texts refer to stress as sahasa and mention that it causes ojahksaya/loss of immunity and thus increases a person’s susceptibility to numerous diseases including Prameha or diabetes, fertility issues, heart troubles, irregular periods in women and more.
Ayurveda states that depression is the result of aggravated kapha dosha that puts the brain’s electrochemistry (vata dosha) out of balance and weakens the body’s metabolism (pitta dosha). In order to counter this sudden imbalance in vata and pitta the body releases an excess of kapha leading to lethargy, dullness, gloominess and eventually depression.
Ayurveda classifies stressors (or factors that can lead to stress) as those that can cause physical stress (injury, excessive physical activity, unsupervised fasting, fatigue & exhaustion etc.), and emotional & mental stress (anger/krodha, fear/bhaya, grief/shoka, greed/lobha, confusion/ayasa, attachment/moha, excitement/udvega etc.) that can lead to morbidities.
Along with loss of immunity or ojahksaya, stress also causes deterioration in all the dhatus (tissues). Vata dosha is vitiated (mainly by excessive physical stress and also psychological stress to some extent) and may cause health disorders such as jwara/fever, gulma/abdominal mass, Prameha/diabetes, and shosha/tissue depletion. Pitta dosha is also impaired mainly due to excessive anger and exhaustion.
Ayurveda strongly emphasizes prevention, promotion, cure and rehabilitation by following Ayurveda prescribed principles of health such as Dinacharya/daily routine, Ritucharya/seasonal regimen, Ratricharya/night routine, Sadvritta & Achara Rasayana/ethical and moral activities, Aahar/diet, Nidra/sleep and Brahmacharya/regulated abstinence.
Rasayana Tantra, one of eight branches of Ashtanga Ayurveda, is a wholesome way to manage stress. Acharya Sushrut states that Rasayana tantra helps promote healthy dhatus, improves Ojas, longevity as well as physical & mental strength.
Regular sleep hours – at least 7 hours each night, helps improve insulin resistance, improves glucose tolerance, regular sleep routine calms and restores the body
Practicing Pranayama – breathing exercises have calming effect on nervous system, reduces stress levels and helps in diabetes management
Yoga – yoga practices are known to relax the mind helping reduce blood glucose levels and management of type 2 diabetes. Specific asanas such as surya namaskars, sukhasana, balasana, uttanasana, garudasana, setu bandha sarvangasana, utthita trikonasana, viparita karani, paschimottanasana are known to calm the mind & body and relieve stress
Herbs play a vital role in Ayurvedic treatment for diabetes. Although most herbal medications are known for hypoglycemic and hypolipidemic effects, they are also very effective in managing stress by relaxing & calming the mind and protecting the body from stress induced harm.
Ashwagandha – helps control blood sugar levels and is a natural anxiety reliever
Gudduchi – helps to improve immunity, manage blood sugar levels, lower stress and improve cognitive function
Brahmi – helps lower stress and anxiety levels, reduces blood sugars, boosts immunity
Mandukaparni – reduces oxidative stress, helps manage diabetes due to anti antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties
Jatamansi – calming attributes that help manage stress & anxiety, antioxidative properties useful in improving insulin sensitivity
Shankapushpi – vata and meda/fats balancing properties, helps manage stress and insomnia by relaxing the mind, supports lowering of blood sugar levels
Amla – natural remedy to treat diabetes, helps insulin resistance and balances high blood sugar levels, helps manage hyperglycemic stress in diabetics
Turmeric – decreases the level of glucose in blood, increases insulin sensitivity, boosts serotonin levels, helps relieve anxiety & depression
Daruharidra – helps manage blood sugar levels by increasing metabolism of glucose, reduces formation of glucose and oxidative stress
Vidanga – functions well on medha dhatu and hence works efficiently against diabetes, pacifies vata & kapha dosha, has an antidepressant effect that helps manage depression & stress
Triphala – triphala churna (Amla + Haritaki + Bibhitaki) alleviates stress by increasing lipid peroxidation and corticosterone levels, decreases blood glucose levels
Although the connection between stress and diabetes may not be immediately noticeable, it is acute. Following Ayurveda prescribed methods of altering diet, lifestyle and including herbal medication to suit diabetic patients, can help lower the effects of both stress and diabetes. It can lead to improving physical as well as mental health to enable diabetics and even pre-diabetics to lead long, fulfilling, happy lives.
Consult an expert Ayurvedic Vaidya for management of diabetes and stress relief and more.