Two Different Standards for Diabetes Testing

At the beginning of this year, the American College of Physicians issued revised guidelines for the drug management of type 2 diabetes.  Central to their recommendations is a target A1C of between 7% and 8% for most patients.  Conversely, for the past several years, the American Diabetes Association has set a goal of an A1C below 7%.  The ACP and the ADA are both influential healthcare authorities whose directives impact the way we practice medicine in America today.

While the discrepancy has led to a robust discussion among physicians, patients are more likely to just end up confused.  How can two authoritative sources disagree on the basic standard for optimal blood glucose levels for those with type 2 diabetes?  Of course, as Dr Shubrook from Touro University argues, there is consensus that diabetes care needs to be tailored to the needs of individuals patients.  Recognizing the value of personalized care, the disparity between the two guidelines can be understood as being representative of a broad spectrum of possibilities that allow physicians to make case-by-case decisions.

It is even more important, however, to grasp that the numerical findings from lab testing are, ultimately, numbers on a page, subject to both a margin of error and different perspectives regarding their relevance.  Disagreements among healthcare professionals are not unique to the interpretation of A1C results but also impact our understanding of cholesterol numbers, blood pressures, and PSA testing.  The use of the PSA test, in fact, has even drawn the sharp criticism of Richard Ablin, the scientist who first identified prostate-specific antigen.

Returning to the subject of blood glucose, it is generally accepted that lower blood sugars are preferable over chronic hyperglycemia, so one wonders why the American Diabetes Association would set a higher average target A1C.  There are two possible answers to this question.  First, according to research, hospitalizations and fatalities in elderly patients treated for elevated blood glucose are, in fact, more often caused by hypoglycemia than hyperglycemia.  Furthermore, other studies have demonstrated that many of the diabetic drugs generate at least one common adverse effect.  Adding to a patient's drug regimen is, therefore, likely to result in additional health issues which also require treatment, trapping doctors and patients in a vicious cycle.

This dilemma for conventional care is actually an opportunity for  AOM (acupuncture and Oriental medicine).  As a Western medical condition, the treatment of diabetes is outside of the scope of acupuncture and Chinese medicine care, but, backed by 2,500 years of success in helping those suffering from diabetes to enjoy a better quality of life, AOM is not dependent on our modern diagnoses or testing to be effective.  The key to getting a good outcome is relying on the unique methodology of traditional Chinese medicine that facilitates authentically personal care.

The process begins with identifying the main complaint and all of the presenting patterns for each patient.  By focusing on the chief complaint, the Chinese medical practitioner sets a pragmatic goal to quickly make a difference in the patient's quality of life, while addressing all of the patterns provides holistic, individualized care to promote long-term wellness.  Although the explicit reduction of blood sugar levels is unrelated to the traditional treatment goals of Chinese medicine, patients who receive Chinese medical care typically report significant improvements in their daily blood glucose readings and A1C levels.

As the number of individuals with type 2 diabetes continues to rise, we need to use all of the resources at our disposable to ensure that patients live the healthiest and longest lives possible.  This means not only availing ourselves of the newest Western treatment options but also employing traditional medicine where appropriate.  When it comes to the epidemic of type 2 diabetes, we just cannot afford to discriminate against useful treatments that can deliver the personal, effective treatment that patients need.