What Did the Word Diabetes Mean in Ancient Times?

Diabetes is a chronic disease that affects millions of people worldwide. It is often referred to as a modern-day disease, but did you know that the word diabetes has its origins in ancient times? In this article, we will explore what the word diabetes meant in ancient times and how it has evolved over the years.

The Origin of the Word Diabetes

The word diabetes comes from the Greek word “diabainein,” which means “to pass through.” The term was first used by Aretaeus of Cappadocia, a Greek physician who lived in the second century AD.

He described a condition in which patients experienced excessive urination, thirst, and weight loss. Aretaeus named this condition “diabetes,” as he observed that the patient’s urine passed through their body like a siphon.

The Ancient Understanding of Diabetes

In ancient times, there was little understanding of what caused diabetes or how to treat it. However, several cultures recognized its symptoms and attempted to provide relief for those affected.

In Ayurvedic medicine, an Indian form of holistic healing that dates back over 5,000 years, diabetes was known as “madhumeha.” This translates to “honey urine,” referring to the sweet-tasting urine of those suffering from diabetes. Ayurvedic practitioners believed that diabetes was caused by an imbalance of three bodily fluids – vata, pitta, and kapha.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), another ancient form of medicine dating back thousands of years, diabetes was known as “xiao-ke.” TCM practitioners believed that xiao-ke was caused by an imbalance in the body’s energy flow or Qi (pronounced chee).

Evolution of Diabetes Understanding

Our understanding of diabetes has come a long way since ancient times. Today we know that there are two primary types of diabetes – type 1 and type 2.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that occurs when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, occurs when the body becomes resistant to insulin or doesn’t produce enough insulin to regulate blood sugar levels.

While there is no cure for diabetes, we now have a better understanding of how to manage it. Treatments include medications, lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise, and regular monitoring of blood sugar levels.


In conclusion, diabetes has been around for centuries, with its origins dating back to ancient times. While our understanding of this disease has evolved over time, there is still much to learn about its causes and potential treatments. By continuing to research and develop new therapies, we can improve the lives of those affected by this chronic disease.