Can Chiropractors Really Treat Diabetes?

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Across the country, some chiropractors are marketing controversial programs — some costing as much as $10,000 or more — that claim to treat or even "reverse" diabetes. Can chiropractors legitimately treat diabetes? Are these programs a scam? What should you look for if you decide to go this route for your diabetes care? Let’s take a look at what a chiropractic program for diabetes can and can't do for you.


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How is diabetes treated?

For some people with type 2 diabetes, a program that involves nutritional changes, a reduction of carbohydrate intake, moderate to significant weight loss, and regular exercise can lower blood sugar to non-diabetic levels. Some patients, however, require medications to help deal with insulin resistance and enhance the body’s sensitivity to insulin. In some type 2 cases, insulin treatment is required. Type 1 diabetes always requires insulin treatment.


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The controversy about chiropractic treatment

The concern about chiropractic treatment for diabetes is that it can only address nutrition, weight loss, and exercise, using over-the-counter supplements and lifestyle recommendations — not medications. These approaches may be effective in some, but not all, cases of type 2 diabetes. For type 1 diabetes, however, there is no replacement for life-saving prescription insulin therapy.


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Why are chiropractors focusing on diabetes?

Chiropractic practices that only offer spinal adjustment are often unprofitable, so some in the field are looking for more lucrative service areas. As a result, some chiropractors are taking advantage of the epidemic of diabetes, offering expensive programs targeted primary at people with diabetes. There are even training programs that teach chiropractors how to market and profit from these diabetes treatment programs.


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The “functional endocrinology” tip-off

How can you identify a chiropractic diabetes program? One tip-off is that the chiropractors marketing these programs often identify themselves as “functional endocrinologists,” or claim to specialize in “functional endocrinology.” The term “functional endocrinology” may even be part of the practice name. Functional endocrinology is marketing terminology that refers to treating hormonal conditions, such as diabetes and thyroid disease, without prescription medications.


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Characteristics of chiropractic marketing for diabetes

Another feature of these programs is advertising a free lunch or dinner “diabetes seminar.” Attendees are given a hard-sell sales pitch that highlights the dangers of diabetes drugs, or frightening complications of diabetes such as amputations. They are told that the chiropractic program may be able prevent complications and even reverse the condition. Attendees are often told that enrollment in the program is limited, or a special price is only available for a short time.


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Signs of a questionable chiropractic program

Some signs to watch for in advertising, seminars, or free consultations are references to "hidden secrets" or “secret methods” to prevent or treat diabetes. Be wary of claims that you will cure or reverse your diabetes, be able to stop taking prescription medications, or reduce your drug dosage. Another warning sign: a chiropractor who suggests that you reduce your dosage of prescription medications without advising you to consult your prescribing physician.


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How much do chiropractic diabetes programs cost?

Most reputable chiropractors do not insist you prepay for services, or make you sign a long-term contract. Questionable diabetes programs, however, can up to $15,000, and the chiropractor may insist on an up-front deposit and a signed contract to hold your “spot” in the program. Also, be on the lookout for a marketing pitch that discusses long-term financing options for the program, or that suggests you empty your retirement account or “max out” credit cards to pay for the program.


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Is it legal for chiropractors to treat diabetes?

Whether a chiropractor can treat – or market treatment for – diabetes differs by state. Some states consider diabetes to be within the scope of a chiropractor. Others legally prohibit chiropractors from diagnosing or treating diabetes.

Keep in mind that no chiropractor can prescribe medication. So, if you are taking prescription medications for type 2 diabetes or are insulin-dependent, a chiropractor by law can’t prescribe those drugs. As a result, many offer over-the-counter supplements.


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Cracking down on chiropractic diabetes programs

There are cases where authorities have suspended, taken away licenses, or criminally charged chiropractors who were offering diabetes care. In one high-profile case, a chiropractor was using “hard sell” tactics to sign patients up for a $6,000 program that claimed to reverse diabetes. Patients were encouraged to stop or reduce their medications without consulting their physicians. The chiropractor was ultimately convicted of six third-degree felonies and sentenced to prison.


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What can chiropractors do to help you manage diabetes?

Chiropractic doctors seek to address musculoskeletal issues, which can include:

  • Muscle cramps
  • Loss of reflexes
  • Peripheral neuropathy, tingling, numbness, and pain in hands and feet
  • Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome (RSDS)
  • Stiff hands syndrome
  • Joint pain
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Adhesive capsulitis (frozen shoulder)


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Chiropractors and nutritional counsel

Some chiropractors may be experienced at identifying nutritional deficiencies and imbalances and may be able to support your efforts at healthy weight loss and blood sugar management. Keep in mind, however, that reputable chiropractors should have reasonable fees that are payable by the visit — not long-term contracts for thousands of dollars, with exorbitant markups of tests and supplements. They should also encourage you to keep your regular physician informed of any supplements you are taking.


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Choose a chiropractor carefully

If you choose to consult a chiropractor, make sure you do your research, and choose carefully. Research the chiropractor’s ratings online, and make sure that at your initial consultation, you are clear on the approach, tests, and costs involved in your treatment.