Examining the potential of TCM to treat severe diabetes-related kidney damage
12/17/2019 // Evangelyn Rodriguez // Views

Diabetic nephropathy (DN) is a serious complication of diabetes. Patients who suffer from either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes are likely to develop this disease, which mainly affects the kidneys. DN often occurs as a result of untreated diabetes. When diabetics allow their blood sugar levels to remain uncontrolled, they eventually suffer from high blood pressure, which damages their kidneys and, over time, leads to organ failure. But according to researchers from Canada, Taiwan, and the U.S., this lethal consequence can be avoided through natural means. In their study, which appeared in the journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, they reported that diabetics who use traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) have lower rates of kidney failure and mortality than those who don't, suggesting that TCM use may be beneficial for diabetics, especially those who already suffer from DN.

Diabetic nephropathy and end-stage renal disease

DN is a disease that impairs kidney function. The kidneys, whose main job is to filter waste from the blood, consist of tiny blood vessels which are integral to its function. High blood pressure, however, can cause damage to these blood vessels, which limits the kidneys' ability to work. Excessive damage to these blood vessels eventually causes DN, which is why diabetics are encouraged to manage their blood sugar levels as a preventive measure.

For patients with DN, the final and most frightening stage of this disease is known as end-stage renal disease (ESRD). ESRD, simply put, is kidney failure, which necessitates either dialysis or kidney transplant for a patient to survive. While the kidneys can stop functioning all of the a sudden due to other causes (acute renal failure), this event can be reversed with proper treatment. ESRD, on the other hand, is irreversible and incurable.


There are many signs that can alert you that your kidney is beginning to fail. Your kidneys' filtering system, once irreparably damaged, can cause waste and excess fluid to build up in your body. This can trigger a lot of symptoms, which are easy to distinguish. Some warning signs to watch out for are:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Reduced appetite
  • Swollen feet and ankles
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Itching
  • Breathlessness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Excessive or inadequate amounts of urine

If you're diabetic and notice any of these symptoms, pay your health care provider a visit to get a proper diagnosis and explore your treatment options.

TCM use reduces the risk of ESRD and mortality in patients with DN

According to the researchers, DN is a common complication of diabetes that imposes an enormous burden on the health care system. Previous studies suggest that TCM treatments can protect patients from DN, but the long-term impact of TCM use is still unclear. To address this, the researchers decided to evaluate the rates of ESRD and mortality among TCM users with DN. (Related: Can red sage protect against diabetic nephropathy?)

They identified 125,490 patients with DN from the National Health Insurance Database in Taiwan and collected data from them for analysis. The researchers reported that among the eligible subjects they have selected, 60 percent used TCM (65,812 TCM users and 41,482 non-users). After 1:1 matching, they analyzed the outcomes of 68,882 patients and found that:

  • For ESRD, the eight-year cumulative incidence for TCM users and non-users were 14.5 percent and 16.6 percent, respectively.
  • For mortality, the eight-year cumulative incidence for TCM users and non-users were 33.8 percent and 49.2 percent, respectively.
  • For TCM users, the cause-specific hazard ratio of ESRD and mortality were 0.81 and 0.48, respectively.
  • The cumulative incidence of mortality rapidly increased among TCM users with ESRD compared with those without.
  • TCM users with longer usage or those who used TCM after being diagnosed with DN had a lower risk of mortality than non-users.

Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that TCM treatments could lower ESRD and mortality rates among patients with DN.

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