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Sweet Life diabetes community blog.

How to stay young at heart

Staying young at heart is easy with these great activities. Charis Le Riche gives us some ideas…

Though you might not be able to turn back the clock, you can always feel – and act – young at heart. Here’s how to lighten up and be more youthful.

Giggle

Nothing makes you feel younger than having a good laugh. Laughter also helps you feel less anxious, less tense, boosts your immune system, protects your heart and can even make you look younger. Be sure to surround yourself with cheerful, happy people and seek out opportunities to have a good giggle together.

Sing out loud

You don’t have to be pitch perfect to belt out a tune, and children definitely don’t let being in tune stand in the way of their performance! Even doctors recommend singing out loud, as a means to release endorphins which make you feel good.

Build a fort

Dismantle the couches and build yourself a fort right in the lounge. There is nothing better to cheer you up on a rainy day than putting together a fort made out of couch pillows and sheets for you and the kids to play in – or maybe for a romantic candlelit evening with your partner.

Play board games

We seem to have forgotten that there are better things to do with our time than sit in front of the computer or TV screen. So switch off all your devices and get a little competitive with board games. Whether it’s 30 Seconds, Pictionary or good old Monopoly, you’ll be amazed what fun a board game can be.

Colour in

Not just for kids, colouring in (and painting!) for adults is all the rage at the moment. Colouring in is a stress-free activity that will help put your mind at ease. Choose from one of the many adult colouring in books and whatever crayons or kokis you need to get your creative juices flowing and make you feel young again.

Tips for parents of diabetic children

“My son is a Type 1 diabetic, but I don’t want to be overly protective and make him feel he can’t do anything. Do you have any tips for parents of diabetic children, and how to make life normal?’ Sam Shongwe.

Dear Sam,

The first thing you must realise is that a child with diabetes is still a child. He should not be treated differently than a child who does not have diabetes. Granted, you have more issues to cope with – like good food choices, insulin and testing – but these things shouldn’t stop him from having a normal, happy childhood.

The first thing to do is make sure he is safe at school. Let a responsible person know what his diabetes involves so that they can keep an eye on him. By doing this you won’t have to keep phoning him or the school to make sure he is okay: this will only embarrass him and make him withdraw from friends and fun.

Remember, he can also play sports and take part in physical activities just like any other child: you just need to plan – first talk with his doctor, and then help him with the routine of glucose testing, planned eating, and insulin. Work out a plan that he’s happy and comfortable with.

Encourage your child and allow him to socialise. Let him do parties, sports, sleepovers and camps if he wants to. Discuss a back-up plan with him when he does, but try to let him do his thing.

Most importantly, help your child to become more independent by getting him to take an active part in his diabetes care while he’s still young. Encourage him to solve problems and make choices with you about adjusting insulin doses, for example. Help him create a good lifestyle so that his diabetes doesn’t become too difficult to manage and hijack his life. Self-care is the key to developing any child’s independence and self-esteem: it’s important to get your child involved in self-care as soon as he is able to – with your supervision, of course.

Finally, recognise your limit of control. Accept that you cannot watch over him all the time, stand back and allow him more independence as he becomes more confident and responsible. It’s the same with any child: if they prove their responsibility, they get more independence.

– Jeannie Berg, Diabetes Educator

 

Stretch it out

Want to have a more flexible body and improve your circulation? Nicole McCreedy tells us why stretching should be part of everyone’s day.

When we’re young, it’s easy to imagine that our bodies will always do what they’re told. But as we age, our muscles tighten and all of a sudden something as easy as bending over to pick up your keys might be a struggle. Stretching is important because it keeps the body flexible and allows your joints to move through their full range of motion. Here’s all you need to know to keep flexible.

Why stretch?

For people with diabetes, improving circulation is essential for maintaining good health. Because stretching increases blood flow to the muscles, specifically the legs, it is great for circulation, but that’s not all. Regular stretching will increase nutrients to the muscles, improve your co-ordination, lengthen your muscles, reduce lower back pain, and even increase your energy levels.

How to stretch

While you can stretch anytime, anywhere – in your home or at work – you want to be sure to do it safely. Each stretch should be done in a slow and controlled manner till you feel ‘mild discomfort’. If it feels painful, you’ve stretched too far. Do not bounce or force the stretch.

Ideally, you should stretch before you start exercising. To avoid injury, first warm up your muscles. Run on the spot for a few minutes or do some jumping jacks to get your blood flowing and increase your heart rate. Stretch again at the end of your training sessions to help your muscles recover.

Types of stretching

What kind of stretching you choose to do will depend on your fitness and flexibility.

Static stretching is the most common form and is safe for beginners. Give this a try: to stretch the back of your upper thigh lie down on your back. Lift your right leg up in the air, heel facing the ceiling. Make sure that your lower back stays in contact with the floor and the left leg remains straight on the floor. Grip your raised leg with both hands. You may be comfortable holding your thigh, or you may be able to clasp your knee. Do what feels best for you. Keep your head and neck relaxed. Hold for 30 seconds or less. Change legs.

Passive stretching means you are using something outside yourself to help you stretch. Here’s a passive stretch to try: Relax the muscle you are trying to stretch and rely on a strap, gravity, another person, or your own body weight to stretch the muscle gently. Make sure you are well balanced before you start stretching!

Passive stretching is useful for those who have been injured or are frail. A recent study has found that passive stretching can help regulate blood glucose and is beneficial in treating people who are less physically able.

Dynamic stretching is moving through a challenging but comfortable range of motion repeatedly. Take shoulder circles for instance: stand tall, feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent. Lift your right shoulder towards your right ear, take it backwards, down and then up again to the ear in a smooth action. Repeat six to ten times. Do the same with the left shoulder. What you are doing is actively contracting the muscle in the opposition position to the one that you are stretching.

Love stretching and want to take it further? Try yoga or pilates – both involve active stretching. With yoga, the postures are timed with the breath and are designed to put pressure on the glandular system. In pilates, the sequence of movements focuses on strengthening your core muscles – the deep, internal muscles of the abdomen and back.

What to keep in mind while stretching – Sarah Hall, Biokineticist

Remember that – just like people – each muscle group and joint is individual.

  • Make sure that you warm up before you do any activity, and stretch afterwards as well. A quick rule of thumb is to stretch a muscle only if it is tight.
  • Do not stretch in such a way that you put another joint or muscle at risk of injury.
  • Try to isolate a muscle when stretching. If you are working the hamstring, do not put weight on that leg. Breathe into the stretch to allow the benefits of the stretch to move through that muscle.
  • Decide on a reason for stretching a particular muscle: is it to relax, release tightness or restore length to the muscle? Aim to stretch each muscle for between 10 and 30 seconds.

Ask the expert: Dr. Zaheer Bayat, Endocrinologist

Exercise is good for everybody. But for those with diabetes, there are added benefits:

  • Exercise lowers glucose levels as muscles require more glucose for fuel.
  • Exercise helps in losing weight, which in turn improves morale. Not only will you feel better, you will also look good.
  • Exercise improves insulin sensitivity. This can go a long way to stabilizing blood sugar levels

When starting any exercise program, it is important to spend a few minutes stretching, which will help lessen the risk of doing damage to yourself.

Ask the expert: Prof. Wayne Derman, Professor of Sports and Exercise Medicine

“Flexibility is an important part of fitness, so stretching should be included in any exercise programme. It’s also a great way to manage and prevent muscle cramps. Not sure what to do? Get a physio, biokineticist or trainer to assist you with the right stretches for the muscle groups in which you are particularly tight.”

The day you’re diagnosed with diabetes

Gabi Richter is a diabetic counsellor on our Panel of Experts. Today, she speaks to us about the day you’re diagnosed with diabetes.


The day that you are diagnosed with diabetes is a day that is hard to describe. The world stops but at the same time a neverending rollercoaster ride starts: one you never asked to get on in the first place.

I remember sitting in the doctor’s office and a funny thing happened: he said the test results came back and you’re a Type 1 diabetic. After that I was in shock. The funny thing is I knew that he was talking because his lips were moving, but honestly I have no idea what he said. It was all a blur to me. All I remember thinking is: how can this happen? I never ate much sugar and now I’m going to die. But at least I have an answer to why I’ve been feeling so sick the last few months.

After the shock set in, I remember going to the book shop to basically buy any book that had been printed that mentioned the word diabetes, and then reading them all and being more confused than ever as they all contradicted each other. After the initial diagnosis, the doctor suggested that I go and see an endocrinologist.

Well, I saw a few of them and what they were all good at was sitting me down and telling me the negative side of the disease. How you can lose your eyesight and your feet and how if you get wounds there is a good chance they won’t heal well. Then in the next breath, they explain that now you will need to go on a strict diet and inject for everything you eat ever. They seem to wonder why you look so depressed and have an attitude of, what’s the point to life any more?

At some point during the initial diagnosis, it seems we all go on a sort of autopilot. We inject when needed and ask every question we can think of, and blindly trust what our doctors say, because they’re the professionals and know what they’re talking about, right?

What we don’t realise then is that diabetes is a common condition but it’s also very individually based. What makes my levels go up can have no effect on a friend’s levels. The other thing we learn on our journey is that at some point all diabetics and carers become doctors, dietitians and endocrinologists. The only difference between us and the real doctors is that they have diplomas and we don’t, but we have the life experience and they don’t.

What I have learned the most in my love-hate relationship with diabetes is that while I hate the constant management and daily injections, being diabetic has made me a stronger person and taught me to stand up for myself. In a weird way, it has given my life a kind of warped purpose. So I guess I will always love to hate being diabetic. You know what? That’s actually okay and totally healthy.

Can’t get blood sugar down?

From our community blog:

Hi!
I wonder if anyone can advise me. I’m 27 (soon to be 28) and was diagnosed as a Type 2 diabetic in 2010. When I lived in South Africa, my average blood glucose would read between 5-7 and I would have occasional episodes of hypoglycemia.

Since I moved to South Korea, I have had the opposite problem. My reading first thing in the morning before breakfast is 10-14! I eat special K cereal with skimmed milk diluted with water for breakfast, a garden salad with no dressing for lunch and an average meal for dinner. I take Metformin 500 twice a day (I’ve been on that dose since I was diagnosed) and exercise regularly but I can’t seem to drop my blood glucose to within healthy levels.

I can’t really seek medical help because with my job, I can be deported if they find out I’m diabetic.

How can I get my blood sugar down?

– Kerissa

Comments:

Hi Kerissa, Just wondering if you eat snacks in between your meals as well? My dietician has me eat 7 times a day. Here are my thoughts:

  1. Find a doctor that specialises in diabetes, you might need your medication changed. I was been diagnosed in August 2012 with diabetes, my medicine has changed since and now I’m on both metformin and insulin.
  2. As far as I know, special K is a no-no for cereal. Rather eat oats with an apple.

Make a change in your breakfast and see if that helps. Then test 7 times through the day for 2 days and take that to your doctor’s appointment.

Hope you can get it under control. I battle sometimes too, you are not alone!

Elrica

Hi Kerissa,

I’ve been a Type 1 diabetic for 11 years now, so I can give you some input. Good carbs as far as I know (low GI) are: oats not Oats So Easy, brown rice, sweet potato, rye bread, brown rice cakes. Healthy fats are good for your joints and lowering the GI of a meal or snack (fish oil/omega 3 oil, 30g of almonds, quarter avocado). Good proteins are handy for maintaining muscles. Don’t forget to drink sufficient amounts of water daily to stay hydrated.

Morne

Diabetes in the community

We ask Dr. Tracey Naledi, the Chief Director of Health Programmes for the Western Cape Department of Health, to share her personal health tips and what the Department of Health has to offer diabetics who want to live a healthy, happy life with diabetes.

What does the Department of Health offer those with diabetes?

We focus a lot on prevention: diabetes prevention is so important. People need to be aware of the risk factors that lead to diabetes before we even start talking about the condition, so we highlight the dangers of a poor diet and being overweight, lack of physical activity, drinking too much and smoking. But this isn’t only the role of the Department of Health – it’s also important for individuals to understand what the risk factors are and to prevent them from happening in the first place.

We also screen people so that we can pick up those with early signs of diabetes, and provide proper diagnosis and treatment. If a doctor suspects you might be diabetic, it kicks in a whole process within our health facilities. But we also proactively do campaigns in community-based settings like malls, where we go out and invite people to test for hypertension, diabetes, cholesterol and HIV, and give them information on these conditions.

Do you believe community is important when living with a chronic condition?

Absolutely – I think community is important when you’re dealing with anything that government does. Government is something that works for the people: it is put there by the people to do things on behalf of the people, but at all times we need to be consulting with the people to be sure the things we’re coming up with are what they want. We have to make sure the way we’re doing things is what the community needs. That’s why we have processes to consult with community members, health facility boards and health committees, so that any problems can be discussed. Being close to the community is very important to us.

Why is diabetes a priority in South Africa?

Chronic diseases in general are a priority, because they affect so many people and are such a huge burden of disease. You also can’t just pop a pill for a chronic condition to go away: you need to treat it for the rest of your life. We have to make sure we have the capacity to deal with all these chronic diseases for a very long time. It’s a long term, lifelong thing. And the consequences of uncontrolled diabetes are actually quite serious.

What makes your life sweet?

God and my family. At the end of the day, when all is said and done, the most important thing to me is my family. My work one day will end, all the money in the world will disappear, all the material things will be gone, but there’s nothing I love more than coming home.

Natural supplements for diabetics

We all know that a healthy diet is key to managing your diabetes. But should you also be taking a diabetic supplement? Andrea Kirk asks the experts.

Living with diabetes can be challenging, so when you hear about a natural supplement that works wonders, it’s easy to get excited. “A number of supplements have been said to play a role in improving insulin sensitivity, blood sugar control, and helping to prevent complications of diabetes,” says endocrinologist Dr Joel Dave. “Although there is some observational evidence to suggest that some of these may be beneficial, unfortunately there are no large, long-term, placebo-controlled studies that prove any supplement is effective when it comes to diabetes.”

Dietician Cheryl Meyer agrees: “In some cases benefits have been shown, but at this stage there is just not enough scientific evidence.” Both experts believe that a well balanced diet should provide all the essential minerals and vitamins you need.

“I don’t recommend routine supplementation,” says Dr Dave, “but if someone is deficient in a specific vitamin or mineral, then I would recommend they take a supplement of that particular vitamin or mineral.”

When a supplement may be necessary

If you are experiencing specific symptoms and suspect you are deficient in a vitamin or mineral, speak to your doctor about having a blood test. Your doctor will make a recommendation based on the test results and may prescribe a supplement. Keep in mind that the type and dosage your doctor prescribes may be different from what is found on the shelf. Stick to your prescription rather than self-medicating.

Be careful of drug interactions

Dietary supplements can have adverse interactions with prescription drugs, other herbal products or over-the-counter medications, warns Meyer. The effects range from mild to potentially life-threatening, so it is important to disclose everything you are taking to your doctor.

Never replace your conventional prescription

“Don’t replace a proven conventional medical treatment for diabetes with an unproven health product or practice. The consequences can be very serious,” says Meyer.

“I generally advise my patients to steer clear of supplements unless we know for sure that it’s necessary,” says Dr Dave. “Rather focus on sticking to a healthy diet and lifestyle, monitoring your blood glucose and taking the medication your doctor has prescribed.”

 

Supplements and their claimed benefits

 

Alpha-lipoic acid
Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) is an antioxidant made by the body. It is found in every cell, where it helps turn glucose into energy. Several studies suggest ALA helps lower blood sugar levels. Its ability to kill free radicals may also help people with nerve damage, which is a common diabetes complication. For years, ALA has been used to treat diabetes-related nerve damange in Germany. However, most of the studies that found it helps were based on using intravenous ALA. It is not clear whether taking it orally will have the same effect.
Source: University of Maryland Medical Centre

Chromium
Chromium is an essential mineral that plays a role in how insulin helps the body regulate blood sugar levels. For many years, researchers have studied the effects of chromium supplements on those with Type 2 diabetes. While some clinical studies found no benefit, others reported that chromium supplements may reduce blood sugar levels, as well as the amount of insulin people with diabetes need. Good food sources of chromium include whole grain breads and cereals, lean meats, cheese, some spices (like black pepper and thyme), and brewer’s yeast.
Source: University of Maryland Medical Centre

Fenugreek
Fenugreek seeds may be helpful to people with diabetes because they contain fibre and other chemicals that are thought to slow digestion and the body’s absorption of carbohydrates and sugar. The seeds may also improve the way the body uses sugar and increase the amount of insulin released. An Iranian study found that a daily dose of fenugreek seeds soaked in hot water may be helpful in controlling Type 2 diabetes. Another study from the US suggests that eating baked goods, such as bread, made with fenugreek flour may help to reduce insulin resistance in people with Type 2 diabetes.
Source: Healthline

American ginseng
Several studies have shown that American ginseng lowered blood sugar levels in people with Type 2 diabetes. The effect was seen both on fasting blood sugar and on glucose levels after eating. One study found that people with Type 2 diabetes who took American ginseng before or together with a high sugar drink experienced less of an increase in blood glucose levels.
Source: Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center

Magnesium
Magnesium deficiency has been associated with increased risk of Type 2 diabetes. Some studies suggest that supplementing may be beneficial, but other studies have shown no benefit. A healthy diet should provide all the magnesium you need, so have your doctor check for deficiency before you consider supplementing. Good food sources of magnesium include legumes, whole grains, broccoli, green leafy vegetables, dairy products, seeds and nuts.
Source: Oregan State University and WebMD

The best diabetes-friendly drinks

Ask the dietician: Genevieve Jardine

From our community: “My daughter is on insulin injections and can’t inject for every cold drink she wants. Everybody says aspartame is bad for you, so what can she drink except water?” Di-ann Reid.

A lot of the excess sugar in our diet comes from drinks that are high in sucrose and fructose: regular fizzy drinks, energy drinks and also fruit juices. These not only have an effect on blood sugar, but also increase overall energy intake, which can lead to weight gain. That’s why these drinks aren’t a good idea for diabetics.

So what else can you drink?

Artificially sweetened diet drinks
These are pretty much kilojoule free and don’t raise blood sugar levels, but most of them contain aspartame – the topic of a lot of debate for many years. Although aspartame has been linked to increased risk of cancer, mood disorders and even diabetes, nothing has been proven and the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has approved diet drinks with aspartame, with a limited daily intake. So it’s a good idea to reduce the number of artificially sweetened drinks you have, especially if you’re using other sweeteners in tea and coffee.

Fruit juices
These often confuse people with diabetes, because they say “no sugar added” on the label. Although there is no added sugar, fruit juices are high in fructose sugar that can push up blood glucose levels. They are a concentrated form of natural sugar from the fruit – you get all the sugar, but none of the fibre that’s good for you. A small glass of fruit juice can have twice as much sugar as a piece of fruit!

Tip: When looking at food labels, always check the total carbohydrate content (per serving size) and not just the sugar content.

Here are some ideas for drinks with and without artificial sweeteners:

One-a-day drinks – low carb, with artificial sweeteners

  • Diet fizzy drinks (Tab, Coke Light, Coke Zero, Sprite Zero, Fanta Zero etc.)
  • Diet cordials (Brookes Low-Cal etc.)
  • Light iced teas (Lipton Iced Tea Lite etc.)
  • Light flavoured mineral water (aQuelle Lite etc.)

Everyday drinks – low carb, no artificial sweeteners

  • Freshly squeezed lemon juice in ice-cold water.
  • Hot or cold flavoured herbal teas (no sugar added).
  • All unflavoured sparkling water.
  • Chopped up fruit pieces (like strawberries, lemon or orange) soaked in water for the fruity flavour without the sugar.

Treat drinks – medium carb

These drinks have 6 to 8g of carbohydrate per serving – half the amount of normal drinks!

  • 200ml tomato juice (low GI).
  • 150ml Lamberti’s low GI juice.
  • 100ml Energade Champ (low GI).

Diabetes and depression

Gabi Richter is a diabetic counsellor on our Panel of Experts. Today, she speaks to us about depression and diabetes.


Managing everyday life challenges can be hard for the strongest and most emotionally balanced people. But having diabetes changes the game and adds extra curve balls we need to deal with. Depression is a very common problem, but studies show that people with chronic illnesses such as diabetes are three time more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety. With the constant management plan we have to follow, it’s no surprise that we are at greater risk for depression and anxiety.

Anxiety and depression can overlap with symptoms of diabetes, which make it harder to diagnose whether it is simply anxiety or rather depression that you are feeling. Anxiety can lead to depression if not treated correctly, but depression rarely leads to anxiety. Depression also has fewer symptoms, making it harder to diagnose.

Depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain which affects how you think and feel, and it can manifest in both emotional and physical symptoms. The thing to remember about depression is that you can suffer from depression without fully feeling depressed, and if you are depressed it’s not easy to simply snap out of it.

There are six main symptoms to look out for when dealing with depression:

  • A loss of appetite or any change in eating habits
  • Feeling down all the time
  • Any change in sleeping pattern
  • Lack of energy
  • Loss of interest in daily tasks that you used to enjoy
  • Feeling irritable all the time.

These symptoms are very similar to anxiety, however the main difference is that when you are anxious you worry more about the future and current things that have either happened or could happen. When you feel depressed, you simply have no drive to do anything and can only see things from a negative space.

To understand more about depression, it’s helpful to know what’s happening in your body. Your mood is determined by neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, which are released into the brain. When these levels are low, we start to experience feelings of anxiety and depression. Depression can feel a bit like anxiety and that is why it is often overlooked. A constant state of anxiety can show up in ways that make you feel physically sick, such as constant headaches, dry mouth, upset stomach and nausea.

To suffer from depression or to feel depressed does not mean that you are weak. Many people suffer from depression: it is an ancient disease that affects thousands of people, even famous people such as Winston Churchill. He used to call it his “black dog”.

As diabetics, we often have weaker metabolic and glycaemic control. This in turn can intensify depression symptoms: if not treated correctly, it can lead to diabetes burnout. We need to remember that when we experience depression or anxiety, the body reacts the same way it does to stress. The fight, flight, fright response is activated which releases adrenalin and cortisol into the blood stream, which in turn increases our sugar levels. There are many levels of depression ranging from mild to major: the levels don’t get worse, it’s simply the consequences and symptoms that change.

Depression affects everyone and people suffering from chronic conditions are at a higher risk of suffering from depression and anxiety. One of the most important things to remember about depression is that you can suffer from depression and not look depressed. The symptoms for depression do not always manifest in the known ways: it is also linked to aches and pains in muscles or constant headaches.

So what’s the answer? We need to find ways to relax as much as we can and remember to listen to our bodies. You are not alone in this.

The challenge of brittle diabetes

Do you know what brittle diabetes is? We asked one of our readers, Rencia, to share her story of living with brittle diabetes with us.

I was diagnosed as a juvenile diabetic at the tender age of 5 and a half. This was in 1987, when medicine was not as advanced as it is today.

Upon diagnosis, my parents were told that I would have to take insulin twice a day for the rest of my life and refrain from eating sweets, cakes and all the good things. At that point in my life I couldn’t grasp the enormity of being diabetic. I adhered to the diets and adapted quickly to the injections and glucose testing methods. I would often hear my parents discussing how doctors had advised them that I needed to be told that due to my diabetes I would never conceive children.

The strict control became non-existent when my parents got divorced. I guess as a teenager I didn’t understand the repercussions my teenage years would have on my life.

At the age of 19, I began to notice that my vision was being halved. I went to an ophthalmologist who had me undergo all kinds of tests to determine what the problem was. I was suffering from diabetes retinopathy: when the retina detaches from the back of the eye. If not treated as soon as possible, this leads to permanent blindness.  I underwent my first eye operation to reattach the retina in my right eye and had to wait four months with sight only in my left eye. During the 4 months, I lost the vision in my left eye too and for the remainder of those months I had no proper vision, just distorted images in my right eye.

After the operation to my left eye, I became critically ill with hyperglycaemia  (high blood glucose levels). I was in a coma for a few days. At this point I was being treated by my current specialist. He changed my insulin and put me on four insulin injections a day, as well as four blood tests a day. I had a new lease on life it seemed and I would take hold of it with both hands. I began to keep away from all forbidden items and all seemed well.

In mid 2007, I began having frequent lows and highs. Maintaining my blood sugar levels became more and more difficult, and it was worrying as I started losing chunks of my memory when I had a hypoglycaemic episode. I saw my specialist who diagnosed my diabetes as brittle diabetes. He explained that brittle diabetes is when you have hyperglycaemia and hypoglycaemia without much warning. There is no treatment for this, except frequent blood sugar checks.

I am often ill with mostly low sugar levels, ranging from 1.6 to 2.2. I’m seldom able to determine when these episodes occur which leads me into very dangerous ground. Brittle diabetes is a sub-type of Type 1 diabetes, a term used to describe particularly hard to control Type 1 diabetes. Those people who have brittle diabetes will experience frequent, extreme swings in blood glucose levels, causing hyperglycaemia or hypoglycaemia.

At the end of 2007, I was experiencing severe tenderness in my left eye and I visited my ophthalmologist who suggested I have my left eye removed as it was shrinking and becoming noticeable that there was no vision in the eye. I had the eye removed and 6 weeks later was fitted with a prosthetic eye.

Against all odds, I conceived my first child in 2010. It was a petrifying experience for me because I was so afraid of something going wrong. On the 4th of October 2010, I gave birth via C-section to my son Tyler. It was a very trying time keeping my levels down. I have successfully had two children – my second pregnancy was easier, though I was hospitalized three times in my first trimester. Once that was over, I maintained constant contact with my specialist and tried my utmost to keep my levels between 4 and 8mmol/l, so that I didn’t have to deal with the effects of my brittle diabetes.

Living with Type 1 diabetes is not as easy as most people thank. It’s a constant challenge and mine is slightly more difficult. However, I do try to rise to each of the challenges to the best of my ability. It’s my great desire to one day receive sponsorship in order to obtain a DAD (diabetic alert dog) – a dog trained to pick up if your blood sugar is high or low by the scent your body omits. Having one of these dogs as a brittle diabetic would be such a great help. It could be a lifesaver.

I urge parents, teenagers and even older individuals to take extra care of their diabetes from day one of diagnosis in order to prevent the challenges I face daily. See your doctors regularly and you could lead a fairly normal life. Diabetes is a life-altering illness, but with the correct care from day one you can lead a fairly normal life.

– Rencia Gabriel-Phillip

Would you like to share your story of living with diabetes with the Sweet Life community? Email us – we’d love to hear from you.

10 Fast ways to improve your immunity

Want to keep healthy all-year round? Try these smart immune boosters to keep in the best possible health.

  1. Did you know that if your blood sugar remains high, you’re more likely to get infections? Balanced blood sugar is the key to good health.
  2. Getting an annual flu vaccination can help to build your winter immunity.
  3. Don’t overdo it! Chronic stress can run your immune system down.
  4. Drink up! Increase your intake of healthy drinks like water and rooibos. Hot water with a slice of lemon is a delicious variant.
  5. Eat a healthy and balanced diet, with plenty of fruit and veg. Try foods high in vitamin C (oranges, naartjies, kiwi fruit and berries), vitamin B (cheese and eggs), beta and mixed carotenes (carrots and sweet potato), vitamin E (sunflower seeds and almonds) and selenium (fish and bran). Don’t forget those leafy greens like spinach, kale and broccoli.
  6. Get off the couch! Whether you go for a walk or do an indoor class, keep up your exercise regime to boost your immune system.
  7. Rest more and get more sleep (if you can!)
  8. Get a vitamin B injection to give you an energy boost.
  9. Try pre- and probiotics to balance the bacteria in the gut and boost immunity.
  10. Eat more of these immune-boosting foods: cabbage, garlic, chicken soup, ginger, honey, lemon, mushrooms, oats, salmon, and oysters.

14 ways kids can make you happier

Claire Barnardo gives us 14 ways having children in your life makes you happier all round… (even if they’re not your own… And even if it’s not all the time!)

  1. Be young again
    Spending time with kids allows you to relive your youth again: everything you did and didn’t get to do. Playing with toys, reading your favourite children’s books and playing at make-believe are all some of the day-to-day activities with a child.
  2. Keep fit
    Have you spent an afternoon with a two-year-old recently? It’s one quick and sure way to get in shape! They will have you running around in no time.
  3. Laugh aloud!
    Children say the funniest things all the time. They can also be quite profound and real in understanding the world. It’s cute, amusing and special all at once.
  4. Social butterfly
    You get to meet a whole new group of friends through play dates, school, the library, and family time at parks. Being a parent is a unifying experience.
  5. New view
    You can experience the world through new eyes and fall in love with life all over again. There are so many first experiences that you can share with a child. And this time around you get to buy the toys you really want…
  6. All better
    A child can change the worst of adult days into something bright just by saying one sentence, or giving one little hug.
  7. Get creative
    Kids are at their creative height the younger they are, so you can flex your creativity too. Play-doh, paint, dancing, singing, storytelling… The possibilities are endless.
  8. Adventure
    Kids enjoy life in full doses. Whether it’s exploring the garden or baking, building tents or drawing, it’s all one big adventure when you’re around a little one.
  9. Purposeful
    Looking after a child gives you a greater sense of direction and purpose in life. You are able to be your best self around them.
  10. Playtime
    They also remind you about what’s really important in life… and it’s not the laundry, or the dishes.
  11. Deep answers
    Children are inquisitive and won’t settle for a simple explanation. They test your general knowledge and understanding constantly, which is a great way to keep your mind active.
  12. Patience
    Spending time with a child is one sure way to refine your patience and your ability to do things slowly and one at a time.
  13. Focus
    In our busy world of screens and meetings, it is a great joy to be able to focus on someone as they learn their way in the world.
  14. Love, love, love
    Children really do make your heart grow bigger and more beautiful. They rub off a kind of joy that makes you smile more easily and look forward to things you might have taken for granted. 

Kids in need of quality time

If you don’t have your own children, don’t worry: there are plenty who still need you. Why not volunteer at a children’s home, hospital or as a kangaroo carer and give back to a little person?

How to handle a diabetes emergency

“A friend at work is diabetic, and I’ve never really thought about it before because he seems to handle it really well. But last month he had a scary episode where he started shaking and we had to put sugar on his tongue. How can I help him to feel okay about it?” Sini Webster

Dear Sini,

The word “diabetes” can lead to (unnecessary) concerns in the workplace about productivity and reliability. Co-workers who don’t have much information about the condition often feel unsure how to treat colleagues who are testing blood sugar, taking medication and possibly having hypoglycaemic (low blood sugar) episodes during work time.

The person with diabetes may feel insecure, embarrassed and afraid of being seen as different: it can be difficult to know how to support or assist them.

The most important thing is to develop trust so that the person with diabetes knows that they will not be made fun of or penalised for having diabetes. Everyone involved needs accurate information about diabetes and how to manage it: good communication and co-operation lead to a healthier, more productive workplace.

The shaking was probably caused by an episode of low blood sugar. Other symptoms include sweating, heart palpitations, anxiety and – if the blood sugar is very low – disorientation.

It is important for those with diabetes to choose a few colleagues who know how to quietly assist and not panic:

  1. Encourage the person with diabetes to have either a few sweets, 2 to 4 teaspoons of sugar in a little water or half a glass of Coke or juice. If they are unable to swallow, place the sugar or some jam on their tongue.
  2. Once their blood sugar has been raised by the sugary food, they should have something healthy to eat to stabilise it: a piece of fruit or a slice of health bread and peanut butter.
  3. If possible, they should test their blood sugar at this point.
  4. If they are disorientated or unconscious, call an ambulance: it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

– Jeannie Berg, Diabetes Educator

Exercise is medicine

It’s more than just good for you. Nicole McCreedy tells us why.

Regardless of the type of diabetes you have, your doctor is likely to recommend a combination of diet, exercise and, if necessary, medication to help control your blood sugar levels. Many studies have shown that adopting a healthy lifestyle is effective in treating diabetes.

Being newly diagnosed with diabetes can be overwhelming at first. For some, doctor’s orders to exercise regularly may feel like a big obstacle to overcome on this new journey. But don’t stress if you’re someone who can’t recall the last time the word exercise passed your lips: even small steps in the right direction count.

The decision to exercise is the first step to better health. “Exercise is literally the best medicine,” according to biokineticist, Sarah Hall. “This is not saying you can stop taking what the doctor has prescribed,” she advises, “but exercise will generally improve your health, decrease your stress levels, help with weight loss and improve your wellbeing.”

No matter what your medical condition, there is usually some form of exercise that you can do. Make an effort to find an activity that you like, and are able to perform at your current level of health and fitness. This will make it a much easier habit to keep.

Diabetes educator, Kate Bristow, has put together a list of five activities suitable for people with diabetes you can consider trying out:

Walking briskly for thirty minutes, five days a week is the global recommendation for all adults – with or without diabetes. For exercise “newbies”, you can break this up into shorter sessions throughout the day. In fact, a recent study from New Zealand found that taking a ten-minute stroll immediately after a meal may be better for lowering blood sugar levels than a full half hour session once a day.

Cycle for 15 to 30 minutes three times per week. Maintain your heart rate at no more than 65 to 75% of your max, which is a great way to increase your blood circulation and the demands on your body gently. Depending on where you live, consider using a bicycle to commute to work or to nearby places you need to visit. Not only is it a good way to increase your daily level of activity; it can also make the trip more interesting.

Low intensity whole body weight training helps the body to absorb sugar (glucose) into the muscles. As a result, your body becomes more sensitive to insulin and this can lower blood sugar levels. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn – even when your body is at rest. Preventing muscle loss with weight or strength training is also the key to maintaining an independent lifestyle as you age. Get help from a qualified professional who can supervise you while performing the exercises. To start, your weight training programme may include two to three sets of 15 repetitions (reps) for each muscle group twice a week.

Tai Chi or Beginner Yoga are both forms of exercise that allow for gentle movements, through breathing and controlled contraction of the muscles of the entire body. It is best, when first learning either of these disciplines, to join a class so that you learn the correct, safe techniques. A beginner class is approximately 45 minutes. Let the instructor know if you are new to the class, so that they know to help you with the postures. 

Swimming allows once again for the whole body to be involved, with movement performed in a supportive environment.  As long as you take regular breathing and rest breaks, you will see rewarding results.

Tips from biokineticist Sarah Hall:

  • Don’t begin something that you cannot commit to – financially or time-wise.
  • Exercise, to be beneficial, needs to be regular and sustained.
  • Any little bit of regular exercise is better than none at all.
  • Start slowly and build it up – there is no point in hurting yourself in the first session.
  • When you begin an exercise programme, it’s a good idea to consult with your doctor – especially those with health risk and those who are a bit older.
  • Exercise can lower your blood sugar levels and the effects can last up to two days after, therefore it is important to test regularly especially before and up to four hours after exercise and understand the effect exercise has on your own levels.
  • Know how to manage a low sugar level if it happens.
  • Set realistic, clear and concise goals.

No matter what kind of exercise you choose, your body will thank you!

How to avoid dehydration caused by diabetes

When you think of your diet as it relates to your diabetes, you probably think mostly about the foods you consume. However, did you know that staying hydrated is also a big concern if you have diabetes? In fact, polydipsia is the term given to excessive thirst that is a symptom of diabetes. According to the Mayo Clinic, dehydration occurs when the kidneys have trouble filtering and absorbing excess sugar. Those who suffer with diabetes insipidus are also at an increased risk for dehydration.

To ensure that you stay hydrated and reduce the risk of dehydration caused by diabetes, follow these three top strategies.

Keep a water bottle with you at all times
One of the easiest ways to stay hydrated is to keep a full water bottle with you at all times. This removes the need to purchase water outside of the home, makes it simple to have a constant supply of water, and serves as a constant reminder to drink water throughout your day. Since many public places are equipped with filtered water, you can prevent the onset of dehydration caused by diabetes with little effort and no expense.

Set reminders to get enough water
The importance of staying hydrated while managing your diabetes symptoms should not be overlooked. Dehydration is a serious condition which shouldn’t be treated lightly. If you are having a tough time remembering to drink water during the day (even while carrying a water bottle with you), set daily reminders for yourself on your phone or computer to make it a habit. Treat regular water drinking as if it were as essential as taking a medication on schedule.

Replace other beverages with water
Do you tend to drink beverages other than water throughout the day? Skip beverages that don’t provide adequate hydration. Instead, replace some of your carbonated beverages, coffee, and other drinks with a glass of water. Aim to drink at least eight 250ml glasses of water every day. Consuming a sufficient amount of water (rather than beverages that simply contain water) will help combat the risk of dehydration. 

Make it simple to stay hydrated
Making it a habit to stay hydrated doesn’t have to disrupt your life. Begin working these simple steps into your life to limit your chances of developing dehydration as a result of diabetes. While it may take a few weeks (or more) to be sure that you are consuming the proper amount of water, you’ll eventually see how simple it is to stay hydrated throughout the day.