3 questions you probably want answered about diabetes

It’s one of the fastest-growing diseases in South Africa – but how much do you really know about it?

15 June 2015
by Helen Hinkley

Q1: Can eating too much sugar give you diabetes?

Many newly diagnosed diabetics worry that they “gave” themselves diabetes by eating too much sugar. This is not true. “Consumption of sugar and sugary foods will aggravate pre-existing diabetes, but will not cause diabetes,” says Dr Evlyn Sachs, a diabetes specialist in Johannesburg.

“Most people know that diabetes means a blood sugar (glucose) problem. In fact, diabetes is a condition in which the body cannot control the sugar levels in the blood, caused by problems with the hormone insulin. As a person with diabetes has no – or relatively insufficient or ineffective – insulin, the glucose cannot get into the cells to be used. The glucose levels therefore build up in the blood and may even spill over into the urine,” Dr Sachs explains. 

A diagnosis of “high blood sugar” is therefore not directly related to sugar as we think of it, but to the body’s ability to absorb glucose, using insulin.

Dr Thelma De Kock, a GP and diabetes specialist in Rustenburg, agrees. “Too much sugar is never good for you, but it won’t cause diabetes unless you have a problem with your insulin. It’s therefore not ‘your fault’ – you didn’t give yourself diabetes by eating too much sugar – but it’s important to deal with it to prevent complications.”

Q2: Does a diabetes diagnosis automatically mean insulin injections?

In essence, it depends whether you have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes. “If you have Type 1 diabetes, you will immediately need insulin injections. But Type 2 diabetics do not necessarily need insulin, especially not at first,” says Dr Nasrin Goolam Mahyoodeen, an endocrinologist in Benoni.

“There are various lifestyle modifications that can be very helpful in controlling Type 2 diabetes, and a variety of oral medication options too. Later in the process they may need to go on to insulin injections, but not at first,” says Dr Mahyooden.

Dr Tracy Van Rensburg, who runs a diabetes clinic in Kingsbury Hospital in Cape Town, points out a related misconception: “Whether or not you require insulin does not determine what type of diabetes you have,” she explains. “It’s not true that any patient on insulin has Type 1 diabetes. Whether you have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes depends on how it developed, not on what medication you take to control it.”

Q3: Do diabetics have to eat completely different foods to non-diabetics?

There is, in fact, no such thing as the ‘diabetic diet’ – it is simply the diet we should all be following: a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of fresh vegetables, lean proteins and a moderate amount of carbohydrate.

“We advise that patients try to cut down on carbohydrates (starch, milk products, sugars, fruit and certain vegetables – especially those that grow underground like potatoes, beetroot and sweet potatoes),” says Dr De Kock. “We also encourage them to eat more ‘greens’ – cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and spinach, and then proteins like chicken and pork. We suggest eating less carbohydrates, not cutting them out totally, as this is also not healthy.”

Why the emphasis on carbohydrates? They break down into glucose, so an excessive amount will obviously put strain on insulin needs.

“An eating plan doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated,” adds Dr Sachs. “Patients should be positive and focus on the foods that they can eat.”

Know the warning signs of diabetes

An understanding of what Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes is – and is not – can help you to recognise the symptoms and warning signs if they arise. Remember, too, that people with diabetes can live healthy, happy lives – if their condition is properly managed. And the only way to properly manage diabetes is by knowing your blood sugar. Of the 3.5 million diabetics in South Africa, 1.5 million don’t know they’re diabetic – make sure you’re not part of the statistic.

How Clicks Clinics can help you

Clicks Clinics will help you prevent, identify and manage diabetes with their wide range of screening tests and health assessments.

These include:

  • Glucose Screening with Consultation
  • Urine Test (tests for blood, protein and glucose)
  • Blood Pressure Test
  • Cholesterol Testing and Consultation
  • Lipogram Blood Test (to determine different types of cholesterol)
  • Foot Screening Consultation (to check for diabetes-related foot problems)
  • Clicks Full Basic Screening (BP, Body Mass Index or BMI, meal guide and exercise plan)
  • Clicks Screening Measurements only (BP and BMI)
  • Clicks Comprehensive Screening (BP, BMI, Glucose and Cholesterol screening, plus meal and exercise plan).

To make an appointment at a Clicks Clinic, call 0860 254 257 or visit Clicks Clinics online.

IMAGE CREDIT: 123rf.com

Read More: Diabetes Super Section