A few years ago diabetes among children was a rare phenomenon. Diabetes was usually a disease of old age, first appearing in those around 50 or 60 years who consumed too much sugar and starch in their diet, carried too much weight and failed to exercise. This state of exhaustion of the pancreas can be controlled and restored by yoga therapy and dietary regulations which re-sensitize the body's tissues to its own insulin, rejuvenate the depleted pancreas and digestive glands and restore correct body weight. We always have a few of these patients staying in the ashram, where they learn to stabilize their blood sugar levels by the yogic practices.
However, times have changed and the spectrum of diabetes is changing as well. Medical scientists report that diabetes amongst children is on the increase and we have also observed this in our research. Diabetes in children is increasing relentlessly today because of the imbalances which are evolving within the modern civilized lifestyle. The pattern of diabetes which emerges gradually in later life can be controlled by dietary and yogic practices, but this new trend in diabetes is more severe than old age diabetes.
According to medical science, juvenile diabetes requires insulin injections, and the children are trained to administer these injections themselves two or three times a day. Sometimes they are injecting up to 50 or 75 units. Unfortunately there are some side effects; the insulin is extracted from the pancreas of animals and these animal proteins act as a foreign stimulus or antigen to which the body's defence mechanisms react. Other drugs are also used to control blood sugar levels, but some of them injure the heart. However, we have found that juvenile diabetics often respond to an extensive program of yoga asanas, pranayama, shat kriyas and relaxation training, if they spend a month or so in the ashram.
To understand childhood diabetes, we have to first see how a child becomes diabetic. A child can be born with a pre-weakened or undeveloped pancreas or liver. This does not mean that it is an inherited disease, but that the foetus was either deprived of an important building material needed to construct the digestive glands, or was exposed to a dangerous poison, chemical or drug which crossed the placental barrier from the mother's bloodstream. This is one of the complications of our present technological lifestyle.
Nowadays, modern foods are artificially treated and preserved and many more drugs and tablets are consumed than in former times. Even the air we breathe and the water we drink are no longer natural and pure. Once we used to worry about infectious diseases spreading via our water supply, but now toxic chemicals pose a far greater risk to our health and welfare, and often Our children are most sensitive to them.
Although the placenta does not allow poisons and infectious diseases to cross from the mother during foetal development, the placental barrier can be penetrated by many of the powerful synthetic drugs and industrial chemicals to which we are exposed today, and the developing liver and pancreas are extremely sensitive to these influences. This is why some babies are born with jaundice. Either the liver, pancreas and digestive apparatus are immature, or else the liver has been poisoned by a drug or toxin the mother has taken.
Another major cause of juvenile diabetes is an unsuitable diet during infancy and early childhood. This leads to premature exhaustion of the pancreas. Many parents have a false concept here. They want their children to grow as fast as the animals, whose life spans are far shorter than our own. The age of full mature growth attainment has a definite relationship to overall lifespan. A human being is designed to complete his growth in 20-25 years, while a cow is mature in two or three years.
When we give children a lot of animal proteins (such as milk, fish, meat and eggs), starches and sugars, the vital organs of digestion, assimilation and metabolism are overworked and prematurely exhausted. The best diet for the baby is mother's milk. It is a complete food in every way. Mothers should not be too anxious to wean their children. In some societies breastfeeding even continues for two or three years. The infant should be weaned from the breast gradually and introduced to fruits, vegetables and cooked grains. In infancy and childhood, it is especially important to nurture the developing pancreatic capacity by not overfeeding children with a huge intake of starch and sugar, especially in the form of sweetened, processed baby foods.
Each case of juvenile diabetes is an individual one, and it is unwise to make generalized statements. Nevertheless, we have found that many juvenile diabetics have a history of an insecure early childhood. For one reason or another, the predominant emotional climate which has surrounded them from infancy has failed to adequately nurture, support and encourage them. This is a most potent cause of progressive malfunctioning of the secretory, endocrine and digestive glands.
After all, a climate of fear, threat and anger surely influences the digestive processes. If you are about to eat your meal and you become incited to anger, the appetite vanishes immediately. The salivary glands fail to secrete and the mouth becomes dry. In the same way, the glands of the stomach, liver and pancreas also become inactive and the capacity to digest is lost.
If the child's emotional environment is one of constant fear and threat, the digestive capacity can be permanently impaired and symptoms of juvenile diabetes may develop. It is not that the pancreas is congenitally weak, but it is not allowed to function due to emotional disturbances. As a result, the capacity to digest the various experiences of later life is severely affected.
We have found that diabetic children often respond to yoga therapy in the ashram environment. Usually several months of treatment are needed to awaken a significant pancreatic insulin response and bring blood sugar towards normal levels. In our treatment program we include daily performance of hatha yoga kriyas which stimulate and reactivate the depleted digestive and secretory capacities, and of course dietary regulation is imposed. Even in congenital cases the child can usually be led towards a healthy life. Cases of premature digestive exhaustion, due to overfeeding of starch and sugar in infancy, usually respond well; while those cases of digestive failure which have resulted from an atmosphere of prolonged insecurity or sudden fright and fear in childhood usually respond very well to yoga therapy in the positive emotional climate existing in the ashram.