Are you at risk of diabetes?

Diabetes is on the rise internationally – here's what you need to know.

04 November 2013
by Kassabaine Petersen

Globally, diabetes rates have reached epidemic proportions, with the most alarming increase seen in obese children, according to a recent World Health Organization (WHO) report. It anticipates that a staggering 380 million people worldwide will have diabetes by 2025.

In the absence of accurate, official local statistics, Diabetes SA – a non-profit diabetes support group – estimates that there are three million people living with diabetes in South Africa, with an estimated seven million cases currently undiagnosed.

According to the Centre for Diabetes and Endocrinology in SA, diabetes is a common, costly, challenging condition, with no known cure at present.

What is it?

Insulin is a hormone in the body that regulates blood sugar levels, and stores excess glucose in the liver for energy. Diabetes arises when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin (type 1), or when the body cannot effectively use the insulin produced (type 2). The result is high blood sugar levels which, if left untreated, can damage many of the body’s systems. While those with type 1 are born with diabetes, type 2 diabetes is considered a lifestyle disease and is associated with obesity.

“Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes require a comprehensive programme that involves much more than just managing blood glucose levels. Diabetes can affect the heart, kidneys and even the skin. Additional effects are on blood pressure, thyroid levels and cholesterol,” says Clicks pharmacist Waheed Abdurahman.

Type 1 diabetes can be managed with daily insulin treatment, which is necessary for survival and is balanced with a careful nutritional programme and exercise plan. Although type 2 is, in itself, not life threatening, in many ways it is more dangerous than type 1, as its onset is gradual and not easily detected. High blood glucose levels over a long period can cause serious damage to the delicate parts of the body and lead to blindness, heart attack or stroke, kidney failure, impotence and amputation.

Take charge

While you can’t control your genes, you absolutely can choose the way you live.

  • Check your family history. If you have diabetes in your family, you are predisposed to it and you need to make careful lifestyle choices.
  • Heed the warnings. Look out for these early symptoms: extreme thirst, fatigue, blurry vision, excessive urination and rapid weight loss. See your doctor immediately if you recognise these symptoms.
  • Medication, nutrition and fitness work together. Be educated about your own diabetes – speak to your Clicks pharmacist or nurse to get all the information you may need. Click here to download a diabetes meal plan from the Clicks website.
  • Include plenty of whole grains, fresh fruit and vegetables in your diet.
  • Reduce fat and sugar intake, and maintain a high-fibre, protein-rich diet. Avoid sugary desserts and carbonated drinks, processed food and foods high in saturated and trans fats.
  • Get regular exercise by doing something you enjoy and try to keep your weight within a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI) of 18 to 25. Speak to your Clicks clinic sister about how to work out yours. Regular exercise not only helps you lose weight, it also helps control glucose levels, prevents complications and assists with cardiac and circulatory health.
  • Have at least one full physical annually that includes blood glucose measurements. “You can have blood glucose tests at any of the 125 Clicks clinics nationwide. Book an appointment with the registered nurse on duty. A small drop of blood is drawn and results are within two minutes. Regular high levels of glucose in the blood would be cause for concern, and you would need to consult your physician,” cautions Abdurahman. ,
  • Set a good example for your children. They’re growing up in a world saturated with junk food, high in fat, sugar and highly processed carbohydrates. Make sure they are presented with healthy, fresh options, and encourage them to play actively outdoors.
  • Learn more. Help stop the onset of diabetes with Reversing Diabetes by Dr Don Colbert (Struik). It aims to help readers take control of type 2 diabetes the natural way. “We need to get to the root of the problem, which is our diet, lifestyle and waistline,” writes Dr Colbert. Find it at major bookstores.

For more information:

  • Speak to your Clicks pharmacist or registered nurse. 
  • Visit the website for The Centre for Diabetes and Endocrinology at www.cdecentre.co.za