Links to other sites that have diabetes information.
Did you know that diabetics are more at risk of developing heart disease? Here are the facts and what you can do about it.
- Both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetics are at risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). CVD includes both heart disease and problems with the circulatory system, including strokes.
- What can you do? Get tested! A risk assessment will check your blood pressure, lipids and lipoproteins and see if you need to be concerned.
- Quit smoking! If you are a diabetic smoker, your risk of developing CVD doubles.
- Other risk factors also play a part: obesity, physical inactivity and a family history of CVD.
- Eat a heart-healthy diet. Cut down on saturated fats and avoid trans fats that raise cholesterol. Eat lean meat and choose a low fat diet as much as possible.
- If you have any feelings of numbness, confusion, impaired vision, severe headache or difficulty speaking, go to a hospital immediately. This could be signs of a TIA (Transient Ischemic Attack) – a warning sign for a stroke.
- Type 2 diabetics are twice as likely to have a heart attack or stroke.
- Eat plenty of fibre to help lower cholesterol. Wholegrain breads, cereals, fruit, veggies, oatmeal, beans and pulses are all full of fibre.
- Changing your lifestyle can decrease your risk of heart disease (and improve your blood sugar!) Time to get active…
- Hypertension is an important risk factor for diabetics and CVD. Your blood pressure should not be over 130/80 – the ideal is 120/80. The secrets to good blood pressure are to drink less alcohol, don’t eat too much salt, keep at a healthy weight, exercise, stop smoking and visit your doctor regularly. You can do it!
Bridget McNulty goes for a reiki session to see what it can do for diabetics.
At first glance, reiki seems a little odd. How can it possibly help to have someone wave their hands over your body? What could this do for diabetes, really? But if you put your doubts aside for a minute, the effects of reiki can be quite profound.
To understand what reiki is, think back to the last time you stood in line at the bank, and someone came up behind you. Even though you couldn’t see the person, you could sense that they were in your space. This space is your energy field, and just like your body, the energy field becomes blocked from physical, emotional and mental experiences. These blockages can cause you to feel ill, or tired, or depressed – they literally block the flow of energy in your body. Reiki helps to unblock the energy field, which in turn unblocks the body.
So what does it feel like? Deeply relaxing. A reiki session generally begins with a conversation about whatever is bothering you, and then moves to the treatment, where you lie down and the healer moves their hands over your body. You’re fully clothed at all times, and while there may be some light pressing of the hands, it’s not a massage. Some people feel heat coming from the healer’s hands, others just feel relaxed and sometimes even sleepy. It is completely non-intrusive and actually very pleasant.
But what can it do for diabetes? That’s what I asked Debbie Caknis, the reiki healer I visited. “Reiki can help people with diabetes as historically it has been known to heal on the physical, emotional and mental levels of the personality,” she explained. “Therefore disease (or dis-ease, because the body is not at ease) is addressed on many different levels.” It’s not only a physical healing – emotionally you can begin healing stuck energy, and mentally you can learn how to cope with the management of the condition in a more positive way. “Reiki helps people to get to know their bodies and be able to respond to ailments in a conscious manner,” says Debbie.
What’s interesting here is the focus not just on the physical side of the condition, but also on the emotional and mental side. As all diabetics know, there’s a lot more to managing diabetes than just taking your medication, eating right and exercise. Reiki helped me to see my emotions around diabetes in a clearer way, and understand why I react the way I do to high and low blood sugar. It also took away a lot of stress, and we all know how badly stress affects blood sugar.
I left the session feeling calmer, more on top of my condition, and with a burst of fresh energy. In short, I was quite amazed what healing hands can do.
Want to give it a try? Go for a reiki session, or do a once-off course that enables you to do your own treatments at home.
Ask the expert: Ruth Scott, psychologist
“While it is easy to feel overwhelmed by all the treatment options out there claiming to ‘heal’ you, many forms of alternative therapy can really help to calm the mind and therefore relax the body. How you feel about your treatment is almost as important as the treatment itself.”
It’s the highest mountain in Africa, but that didn’t stop Neil Rae – a Type 1 diabetic for 50 years – from wanting to climb it. We chat to Neil, 63, about his preparation, the climb itself, and life with diabetes.
How long have you been diabetic?
I was diagnosed on the 13th December 1964: over 50 years. I’ve seen a lot of changes for diabetics in my time – there’s a lot more we can eat, the technology to monitor blood sugar levels is a lot more advanced and the insulin pen sets are much more convenient. We’ve come a long way since the gas cylinder with a tin cup that I used to sterilise my glass syringes when I was at university!
What made you decide to climb Kilimanjaro?
I grew up in Lesotho and I’ve always had a love for mountains. I don’t know how many decades ago, I said to myself I wanted to set a goal for my diabetes: to climb Kilimanjaro when I’d lived with it for 50 years. About 18 months ago I contacted Novo Nordisk, the people who manufacture my insulin, to ask if they’d like to partner with me. They were very excited to join the challenge. As you can see it’s been a long-term goal of mine…
What did you do to prepare?
I’ve always been a relatively fit person, and I do a lot of walking with my wife Shaye, in and around the streets of Johannesburg and in the Drakensberg. I was walking between 30 and 40km a week and over weekends doing long walks in Westcliff – they have a flight of 222 stairs built into the rock face, and with a heavy rucksack on your back it’s good training! I did the climb with my doctor, Dr Bruce Ilsely and David Broomfield from Novo Nordisk so as a team we were well prepared.
How did you know what to eat and drink while climbing, and how to balance your blood sugar?
Balancing blood sugar was obviously going to be a challenge – spending between 7 and 8 hours a day climbing up and up and up all the time. It was tricky to balance that amount of exercise with the food supplied by the people who organised the walk – we didn’t take any food with us. Normally my sugar is very well controlled, so the plan was to do very regular checks of my blood sugar levels, see what we were going to be given to eat and then decide how much insulin to take. It turned out that I didn’t eat very much – I became nauseous quite early on, once we were over 3500m.
What was the hardest part of the climb?
The hardest part for me were the ascents and descents because you had to climb up mountains and then down into valleys, and there was a lot of very rocky pathways – walking from rock to rock. Some days we went up and down two or three times in a day. We left Moshi on the Monday and we summited on the Thursday night/Friday morning. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make the summit – I got up to about 5000m and my altitude sickness was so bad that Dr Bruce said to me, “If you carry on, you’re going to die”. Once I got back down to the base camp at 4600m, then I was fine: it wasn’t diabetes related at all.
What advice would you offer to diabetics who are struggling?
In my opinion, every diabetic who’s struggling has got to develop a lifestyle routine: get up in the morning, check your blood sugar, decide how much insulin you need and what you’re going to eat for the day. You have to have a definite lifestyle routine, and stick to it every day. Discipline is so important to a diabetic. If you don’t have the routine and don’t have the discipline, you’re not going to live with it for 50 years!
What makes your life sweet?
I’m very fortunate: I’m married to a lovely lady and I have two daughters and four grandchildren now. My family, my life and everything in it makes my life very sweet.
Type 1 diabetes used to be diagnosed in the young; Type 2, mostly in older people. But the picture is changing. Why? And what can we do about it? Carine Visagie asks the experts.
Since the 1980s, diabetes has rapidly increased – so much so that the global prevalence has nearly doubled since 1980, rising from 4.7% to 8.5% in adults. Over the past decade, Type 2 diabetes has become a massive problem in low- and middle-income countries and, for the first time in history, it’s a significant problem among the world’s children. What’s more, Type 1 diabetes is also on the increase.
It’s estimated that about 1.396 million of South Africans with diabetes remain undiagnosed, which makes it hard to judge the scale of the problem here. “But diabetes certainly is on the increase here, too,” says Johannesburg-based paediatric endocrinologist Prof. David Segal.
While the worldwide increase in Type 2 diabetes can be explained by unhealthy, modern lifestyles, rapid urbanisation (linked to inactivity and unhealthy eating patterns), a wider spread of the genes linked to the disease, and an ageing population, the reason for the increase in Type 1 diabetes is less clear.
To complicate matters, an increasing number of adults are presenting with latent autoimmune diabetes (LADA) – a form of Type 1 diabetes in which the progression of the disease is slow. As such, many adults with LADA are misdiagnosed as having Type 2 diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes in adults and the very young
At the start of the 20th century, diabetes was rare in children. By the end of the century, it increased substantially in many parts of the world and, right now, many countries are documenting higher numbers of Type 1 diabetes than ever before. Plus, the profile of patients is changing.
Across the world, this autoimmune disorder now often strikes at a younger age. And while similar research hasn’t been done locally, research shows that 50% of people newly diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in the United Kingdom are over 30. This turns the long-held belief that Type 1 diabetes develops only in childhood on its head.
It’s long been known that both environmental and genetic factors contribute to Type 1 diabetes, but the exact triggers remain unknown. One of the theories, according to Johannesburg-based endocrinologist Dr Zaheer Bayat, is the hygiene hypothesis, which suggests that exposure to a variety of pathogens during early childhood might protect against Type 1 diabetes. A second theory suggests that certain viruses may initiate the autoimmune process involved. Another is that vitamin D deficiency plays a role. And a link between Type 1 diabetes and early exposure to cow’s milk is being explored.
According to Segal, being overweight or following the lifestyle of an obese person (being inactive and following an unhealthy diet) may also be a trigger. The “accelerator hypothesis” argues that Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are in fact the same condition, distinguished only by the rate at which the beta cells in the pancreas are destroyed, and the triggers (or “accelerators”) responsible.
Type 2 diabetes still on the increase
In South Africa, Type 2 diabetes remains a massive health problem that accounts for more than 90% of diabetes cases. This condition, in which the pancreas either doesn’t produce enough insulin or the body doesn’t use it effectively, still predominantly occurs in adults. “But, for the first time, we’re also seeing young adults and adolescents with Type 2 diabetes,” says Bayat.
Ethnicity, family history and gestational diabetes combine with increased age, overweight/obesity and smoking to increase a person’s risk. In this country, the high incidence of Type 2 diabetes is also closely linked to the rapid cultural and social changes we’ve experienced over the last 20 to 30 years. With them came physical inactivity and unhealthy eating – both important risk factors.
According to Fiona Prins, diabetes specialist nurse practitioner, researchers are also currently investigating how, genetically, some of us store fat differently – a factor that could play a role in diabetes risk and management. “Some people may have ‘thrifty genes’, which would allow them to cope better on meals that are eight hours apart,” she says. “But this goes against all our messaging of eating three meals a day (or six, in the case of diabetics).”
Part of the problem, adds Segal, is that many of us don’t quite know what obesity is – we think we’re just overweight when, in fact, we’re obese. His advice is clear: “You have to lose weight to halt the progression to diabetes. It’s the only way.”
Jenny Russell, support group expert, adds: “Go and see a dietician who specialises in this field. They can do a thorough history and advise on an eating plan that suits you. Then simply get moving – every bit of exercise counts.”
From our community: “I know that as a diabetic I should always try and be good, but sometimes it’s hard… What can I snack on without feeling too guilty about it (but that will also be a treat)?” Charne Smith.
A treat is something that tastes great, is normally high in fat and refined carbohydrate, and is eaten to either celebrate or make you feel better… But how do you have your treat and prevent it from totally messing up your blood sugar levels for the day?
Treats are not forbidden, but they should not be too often or too big. It all comes down to self-control and portion control. The occasional block or two of chocolate should not mean disaster for your blood sugar: it’s when you eat the whole slab that things spiral out of control. Everything in moderation is the key.
If you battle with cravings, you need to understand that the last bite never tastes as good as the first bite. The feel good rush you get from the first bite of a treat starts to fade as you continue eating, but your blood sugar levels start to increase.
What does this mean? You only need a small amount to feel like you’ve had a treat. You don’t need the whole slab, packet, bowl or slice…
How to cheat:
- Split a dessert with your partner. It might drive them nuts, but it will keep your blood sugar and weight down. Better yet, plan ahead and choose a light main course so that you can have a small dessert on those special evenings out.
- Choose biscuits and cakes that don’t have icing, or remove the icing and jam from cakes. Icing has twice the amount of sugar as the cake or biscuit.
- Choose a dessert like apple crumble (without the ice-cream or cream) or two small scoops of ice-cream. Just remember to keep portions small.
- Spoil yourself with some good diabetic-friendly ice-cream (low fat/low sugar), lite custard and diabetic friendly puddings.
- Opt for small “bite” sized chocolates or chocolates with wafer inside (e.g. Kit Kat Fingers).
- Dark chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa is better for you as it is higher in antioxidants. Dark chocolate is also bitter so people tend to eat less of it: usually a block or two is enough.
- Salt and vinegar popcorn instead of crisps will keep your fat content low and help with salt cravings. When going to the movies, choose a small popcorn and a diet drink.
Remember: Spoiling yourself on the odd occasion is allowed. Always test your blood sugar levels to see how they react and you will learn to better control these situations.
If you’re diabetic, you probably know all about testing your blood sugar… But are you doing it the right way? Here are some top tips.
- The goal is always to keep your blood sugar in a healthy range: not too high and not too low.
- Checking your blood sugar often makes it easier to understand the relationship between blood sugar levels and exercise, food, medication and things like travel, stress and illness.
- Blood sugar readings also give your doctor, diabetes nurse educator or clinic sister information to help you adjust medication and food, if your numbers are often too high or too low.
- Modern blood sugar meters only take 5 seconds and need just a tiny drop of blood.
- Pricking the tip of the finger is the easiest place to get the drop of blood.
- Before you test, it’s important to wash your hands with soap and water and dry them properly.
- Type 1 diabetics should test before every meal, to decide how much insulin to take.
- Before a meal, blood sugar readings should be 4 to 7mmol/l*.
- Two hours after a meal, blood sugar readings should be 5 to 10 mmol/l*.
- Keeping a blood sugar log is a very helpful tool for all diabetics. Write down your blood sugar test results, along with the date, time and what food you ate. This can make it easier to see if there are patterns in your blood sugar readings.
From Facebook (Diabetic South Africans):
Belinda wants to know if there are any parents of Type 1 diabetic kids out there… Want to share advice?
Some advice: the treatment of diabetes is not a perfect science. What works for one person may not work for the next. You need to make notes of what works for your child. This will take much of the guess work out of controlling your child’s blood sugar.
Allow your kids to have a say and let them see the effects. Never wrap them in cottonwool! Let them live, learn and experiment!
Hi. I’m also new to this. My little girl was diagnosed in May. She’s 2 and a half. Very scary and completely heart breaking often.
Hi Belinda – join Kids Powered by Insulin if you haven’t yet. You’ll get good advice and support there. My son is 15 – diagnosed when he was 13. A good endo and educator, healthy diet and an understanding of how much insulin is needed and how each insulin works has helped us a lot so far. Take care x
Hi there my daughter is 3 years old and Type 1 diabetic, she was diagnosed last year two weeks before her 2nd birthday.
Belinda there are LOTS of us – join the Facebook group Kids Powered by Insulin.
Never tell them they can’t do something because of diabetes. As a child, I was told that I can’t do many things because of my diabetes – I missed out on a lot.
My daughter is 9 years old now and was diagnosed when she was 4. I would love to help anyone who has had to endure diagnosis – it was 3 months of pure hell and would have loved a shoulder to cry on or some tips to help.
Thank you everybody for the reply. I am feeling much better that there are so many parents that are prepared to give me advice!
If there’s one question we get all the time, it’s about the insulin pump: what is it, how it works and how to get it covered by medical aid. So we’ve gathered together all your Frequently Asked Questions, and found the answers.
Meet the expert
Name: Imke Kruger
How long have you been diabetic? 25 years
How long have you been on the pump? 5 years
What made you decide to get an insulin pump?
I battled to get my blood glucose under control on multiple daily injections, especially when doing sports. It was before my first 94.7 cycle challenge that my doctor suggested insulin pump therapy. It has changed my life! I can’t imagine life without my Accu-Chek Combo pump.
What do you love about the pump?
Everything! It helps me to live life the way I want to. I love the discreetness of it – I can give a bolus in a meeting or when going out with my friends, without anyone noticing.
What are some of the challenges?
The first two months were difficult to get used to sleeping with the pump, but now I don’t even realize that I’m wearing it. The challenge is more with diabetes – not the pump. It’s important to realise that insulin pump therapy is not taking the condition away. There are so many variables in diabetes, and that will always be a challenge.
When should someone consider getting an insulin pump?
- If they are experiencing severe hypoglycaemic (low blood sugar) episodes despite careful management.
- If they are on multiple daily injections, following a meal plan, testing their blood glucose levels 4 times a day, and still not getting target HbA1c results.
- If they have irregular eating, working and resting times.
Insulin pump therapy won’t work for those who aren’t committed to it, and there isn’t enough evidence to recommend it for Type 2 diabetics.
A more comprehensive description of the Indications and Contra-Indications to Pump therapy can be found in the SA Guidelines for Insulin Pump Therapy. A Amod, M Carrihill, JA Dave, LA Distiller, W May, I Paruk, FJ Pirie, D Segal, Association of Clinical Endocrinologists of South Africa (ACE-SA) JEMDSA 2013;18(1):15-19.
FAQ about the insulin pump from our community:
What is an insulin pump?
- Insulin pumps are portable devices attached to the body that deliver constant amounts of rapid or short acting insulin via an infusion set.
- The pump tries to mimic the release of insulin from a normal pancreas, but you have to tell it how much insulin to inject.
- It delivers insulin in two ways: a basal rate which is a continuous, small trickle of insulin that keeps blood glucose stable between meals and overnight; and a bolus rate, which is a much higher rate of insulin taken before eating to “cover” the food you plan to eat or to correct a high blood glucose level.
- Because the insulin pump stays connected to the body, it allows the wearer to change the amount of insulin they take with the press of a few buttons at any time of day. You can also program in a higher or lower rate of insulin delivery at a chosen time – when sleeping or doing sports, for instance.
Where do you buy an insulin pump and how much does it cost?
You need to be a patient at one of the accredited pump centres in South Africa. Your doctor will decide if you are a pump candidate according to the Association of Clinical Endocrinologists of South Africa (ACE-SA) guidelines. If you are, you will need a script to claim the pump through your medical aid, or buy it cash from one of the supplying pharmacies.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of using an insulin pump?
Insulin pump therapy improves metabolic control while giving you greater freedom and a better quality of life.
- Your metabolism stays more stable, with better HbA1c values and fewer low blood sugar episodes.
- You can be more flexible in your eating, if you understand the concept of carbohydrate counting.
- You can participate in sports whenever you feel like it — without having to plan in advance
Disadvantages are that you have too much freedom in making food choices, and that there is a risk of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) from pump malfunction or absorption problems.
Remember: Deciding on insulin pump therapy is not a simple decision and should be carefully discussed with your healthcare team.
Will my blood sugar control be better if I use an insulin pump?
It all depends on you. You can wear a pump and it can have no impact on your blood sugar. Or you can use a pump, and with the right settings, motivation and help from your healthcare team, you can have better blood sugar control.
Will I still have to test my blood sugar as much?
A pump patient needs to be a motivated patient who tests regularly, around 4 times a day.
Are there insulin pumps that have a Continuous Glucose Meter attached?
Yes there are – it’s a good idea to discuss with your healthcare team which pump would best suit your needs
How would the insulin pump be used for sports? Are there special casings made or will I have to play without it?
You can engage in any kind of physical activity while wearing an insulin pump. But for sports with intensive body contact and water sports we recommend temporarily disconnecting the insulin pump (not for longer than 1 hour). Special cases and pouches can protect the pump, but it’s always a good idea to insure it as well.
At what age can you put a child on the insulin pump and how easy is it for them to adapt?
I would say at any age, but it’s best to get advice from your pediatric endocrinologist. Children often adapt the easiest of all age groups to insulin pump therapy.
What is the risk of infection?
If you follow the right hygiene steps, the risks are low. You should always disinfect the pump site before inserting the infusion set. It is also critical to replace the infusion set every three days.
How much is an insulin pump with and without medical aid?
That depends on the type of medical aid plan and whether the medical aid covers the costs fully or partly. It would be best to discuss this with your healthcare team or your medical aid. If your doctor agrees that pump therapy is the best option for you, they will send an application to the medical aid.
Ask the expert: Dr Claudine Lee, GP
“Pump therapy is a beautiful and practical way of delivering insulin that tries to fit in with you, the patient, in terms of meals, exercise and illness, as well as just living a normal life.”
From Facebook (Diabetic South Africans):
What advice would you give a newly diagnosed diabetic?
Get as much info as you can. Prepare to make lifestyle change. Respect the illness and it won’t control you
Don’t think you are any different from any other human. Carry on and enjoy yourself: everything in moderation. Exercise a lot and eat well – no problem!
Vat een dag op ‘n slag. eet gesond en doen oefeninge. en als wat ‘n nie-diabeet doen kan diabete ook doen!
Cut out anything white (sugar, flour, bread, chips, etc) and start an exercise program.
Don’t dwell on it too much. My Type 1 diabetic son of 8 understands his illness yet just gets on with life. He is a happy child and a true inspiration to the people around him.
Relax – it’s not the end of the world. It can be so overwhelming at first, but remember you have a manageable condition (note, not disease) God bless you!
We chatted to community inspiration Veronica Vember about how she changes lives, one step at a time.
What got you interested in diabetes at first?
It all started whilst working in the vascular unit at Kingsbury Hospital. I realised that most people are not informed about managing diabetes after being diagnosed. So I became passionate in the control of potential complications, and Kingsbury management identified my passion and allowed me to do the vascular course in London as it’s not offered here. On my return, I did two presentations at the doctors academic meetings. At the time my husband had a myocardial infarction and had been diagnosed with hypertension and diabetes. The entire experience stimulated me to get involved with my community. Now my husband is one of the volunteers. I then started doing motivational talks at schools, groups, on radio and at our nursing college.
How did you start your community group?
I joined the Strandfontein Health Forum and offered to do the diabetes awareness events as there was no project as such. With the awareness held at the Strandfontein Clinic I handed out questionnaires and a suggestion box. The community asked for a diabetic support group: that’s what started it.
What keeps you inspired?
The positive attitude and enthusiasm of the volunteers, and noticing the excitement of the attendees. When we take a break, people want to know when we’ll be starting again. The continuous support of ‘diabetes life’ (a diabetic clinic at Kingsbury hospital) under the management of endocrinologist Dr May, Dr Tracy van Rensburg and nurse educator Sr. Dee Ferguson (my mentor). Positive feedback from the doctors at the day hospitals where the clients attend also keeps me going.
You were voted one of the Western Cape’s Lead SA heroes – how did this make you feel?
Surprised, shocked, emotional, confused and thankful towards the responsible person for the recognition. I’m very proud of the team of dedicated volunteer attendees as I can’t do this alone. It’s a team effort – unity is strength.
What advice do you offer your support group members when they are struggling?
To persevere, not to give up, not to give in, to be compliant, to attend the support group regularly. We do individual counselling and have a communication box available for constructive comments and replies.
How do you make diabetes inspiring?
We create a harmonious atmosphere: a safe environment with easy accessibility, clean, functional equipment and competent staff. We vary programs, presentations, literature, topics and menus (soup in winter and tea and a snack in summer). We also combine our decision making with the volunteers.
What makes your life sweet?
Carrying out our mission, vision and outcome.
S – be sensitive towards all
W – warn people about the consequences of not being compliant
E – educate people regarding a healthy lifestyle and change of mindset
E – be empathetic and empower people with knowledge
T – to be trained, to train others
To ensure that all community members are well informed, and reach and maintain normal glucose levels.
Get in touch with Veronica: Strandfontein Diabetic Support Group on Facebook
We all know that more and more people are now living with Type 2 diabetes. It used to be seen as a condition for the wealthy, but today it’s increasingly common in every community – rich and poor. Nicole McCreedy takes a look.
Diabetes in South Africa is often associated with the Indian community among whom – compared with other cultures – it is more widespread. According to a study by the Human Sciences Research Council and Medical Research Council, 61% of South African Indians over the age of 45 have pre-diabetes, and are more likely, with age, to develop Type 2 diabetes.
But the Indian community is no longer the only group facing the diabetes challenge. It is now being reported as one of the leading causes of death in areas where diabetes was once unheard of.
The rapid rise in diabetes
There are a number of factors that put a person at risk for developing Type 2 diabetes. A family history of the condition, your lifestyle – what you eat, whether you smoke and how often you exercise – as well as your environment all play a role.
In the past, the Indian and white population in South Africa were more likely to be urbanised and wealthier, while Africans lived in the rural areas. Living in an urban environment often means longer hours at work, commuting and easy access to cheap fast foods. This type of lifestyle is linked to higher levels of overweight and obesity, and in turn diabetes. A study from 2005 found South African Indians ticked all the boxes: a diet low in fibre and high in unhealthy fats, physical inactivity, and insulin resistance.
However, in recent decades, South Africa has undergone both political and economic change. As a result, many people living in rural areas, especially Africans, have moved to cities for work and better opportunities. Being less physically active and eating a more Western diet (high in carbs and fats) is contributing to the growing diabetes burden in the African and coloured communities.
South Africans are fat
The relationship between overweight/obesity and Type 2 diabetes is critical. An unhealthy diet and not enough exercise can lead to being overweight or obese. Carrying extra weight, especially belly fat, is bad for your health, specifically leading to insulin resistance, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. All of which are damaging to long-term health.
What’s scary is that in South Africa, 7 out of 10 women and 4 out of 10 men have significantly more body fat than is healthy. The issue of overweight and obesity is emerging as a particular health concern among black women living in urban areas where there is a high rate of HIV. Weight gain, especially among black women, has always been seen as a sign of wealth, health and success in traditional African society, while being thin is associated with being HIV-infected. But overweight and obesity is also linked to diabetes. In a study on body perception among urban-dwelling black women, as many as 90% were overweight and obese, while almost three-quarters had diabetes.
The next generation
Your lifestyle not only affects your own health; it can also impact the health of your children. High blood sugar levels in pregnancy impact the unborn baby’s genes, making them more vulnerable to Type 2 diabetes later in life. Babies exposed to high blood sugar in the womb may have a higher birth weight and this can continue into adulthood with serious effects on their long-term health. Among South African Indians, where high blood sugar has been a problem for much longer, diabetes is now showing up at a much younger age than ten years ago – as early as between 25 to 45 years old.
Ignoring the problem
For many individuals, diabetes is a problem they don’t want to acknowledge. “A big concern is that people with diabetes are not taking their condition seriously enough,” says Jenny Russell from Diabetes South Africa’s Durban branch. “They want to swallow their tablets and carry on their unhealthy lifestyles.” According to Jenny, “in the Indian community, it is almost accepted as ‘normal’ that if you have diabetes, you will have diabetes-related complications: limb amputation, blindness or needing kidney dialysis.”
Others struggle with feelings of guilt. But whatever your culture, as Jeannie Berg, a pharmacist and diabetes educator in Mpumalanga, says:
“Diabetes is the same for everyone. Don’t let it define your life: it is not who you are, it is a part of your life you need to manage.”
All diabetics know that foot care is really important, but do you know why? Preventing foot ulcers is an essential part of keeping your feet healthy. Here are some great tips.
- Foot ulcers are skin ulcers where the skin has broken down under the foot and you can see the tissue underneath it.
- Diabetics are at greater risk of foot ulcers because high blood sugar for a long period of time can damage the nerves in the feet, which means you won’t be able to feel pain and might not notice a foot injury.
- A diabetic foot ulcer can develop after even the smallest injury, like stepping on a little stone with bare feet. Ulcers are easily infected and can take weeks or even months to heal.
- 15% of people with diabetes may develop a foot ulcer.
- More than half of all diabetic foot ulcers become infected.
- Foot ulcers are the most common reason for diabetics needing to go to hospital.
- Luckily, they are also easily prevented: by carefully controlling blood sugar levels to prevent nerve damage.
- It is very important to check the feet, including the areas between the toes, for cuts and sores – every day.
- Keeping the feet clean and dry is essential – but do not soak them.
- Be sure to have your feet checked once a year by a doctor or podiatrist.
We chat to Bongi Ngema-Zuma, First Lady and founder of the Bongi Ngema-Zuma Foundation.
Why did you start the Bongi Ngema-Zuma Foundation?
It has always been my ambition to do something like that – I never came across anybody who told me about diabetes as a child, even when I was at school. But when you speak about it you find that each and every family is affected by diabetes in some way.
How did your mother find out she was diabetic?
My mother was not an educated woman, she was a housewife and only went to school up to Std 4. First she was told she had hypertension and received treatment for that. And then they investigated further and found out she had diabetes. Many people have had this happen – the underlying factor is diabetes. That’s why I encourage people to actively check their blood sugar. Whenever you go to the clinic you should get tested. What I learned from my mother is that changing her lifestyle made her live healthier and longer. She took every little lesson she could from the clinic – you eat like this, you don’t eat like that, you take your tablets, you eat so many times a day. What made it easier for her is that she made the whole family eat like that.
What makes your life sweet?
What makes me happy is chatting to people. I like getting people’s opinions on things, I like listening to people’s stories and visiting new places where I can learn new things.
Find out more about the Bongi Ngema-Zuma Foundation here.
Of all the sports a diabetic could choose, ice skating – with its precision, edge of danger and need to be feeling 100% every time you take to the ice – isn’t the most obvious. But that didn’t stop KZN champ Rachel Lombard from competing.
Who did you skate for?
I was part of the Toti Seals Synchro Team, and we represented KwaZulu/Natal twice a year in the inter-provincial competitions, as well as the KZN championships.
How long have you been diabetic?
I was diagnosed about 10 years ago, when I was 7 years old. It was pretty traumatic, I was scared that I was dying because I was misdiagnosed – they thought it was cancer. It was a huge shock for my mom, but I just remember feeling relieved it was only diabetes and it wasn’t anything worse.
Is it difficult to compete when you have to worry about blood sugar levels on top of everything else?
I have an insulin pump, so that helps, but I still have to be very careful. I make sure my blood sugar is fine an hour or two before we’re due to go on the ice, because my pump is under my tights and my costume and it’s difficult to get to if I need to adjust my levels. I also test just before I go on the ice, because the adrenalin can do funny things to my blood sugar. And I make sure I always have fast-acting sugar on hand in case I go low.
What do you love about ice skating?
I love it mainly because it’s different, and because there’s a real community – especially with my team and the coach. I skate four times a week, so it’s also really good exercise.
What do you think the biggest challenge of living with diabetes is?
The testing – having to test all the time. And how you can never predict what your blood sugar is going to do: you’ll eat something and know how much insulin to take, and it works… And then the next time you eat exactly the same thing and take the same amount of insulin and it doesn’t work, for some reason.
What advice would you offer to diabetics who are struggling?
Get support: that’s the one thing you need, you can’t do it alone. Also be aware that parents go through the highs and lows of diabetes just as much – my mom does so much for me, I don’t know what I’d do without her.
What makes your life sweet?
Just my friends and family around me, helping me through any situation and offering support if I need it. That’s what makes my life sweet.
Get in touch with Rachel: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ask the dietician: Genevieve Jardine
From our community: “My favourite food isn’t very good for me… I love braais and chips, hamburgers and hot dogs. Is there any way to make these delicious foods better for me? Help!” Thabo Duma.
All of us like a bit of pleasure in life, and nothing beats a treat now and again. The attraction of junk food lies in its “quick fix” ability to satisfy food cravings. Unfortunately, what makes junk food so delicious is also what makes it unhealthy. Junk food tends to be high in kilojoules, bad fats and refined carbohydrates. Because it tastes so good, it’s also hard to stop eating. You may get away with one biscuit, but 4 or 5 will cause a significant increase in blood sugar.
When relaxing with family and friends, you want to be able to enjoy holiday food: take-outs, braais and easy meals. There are definitely ways to enjoy these times without feeling left out – and without packing on the extra kilograms!
For take-out options, choose grilled chicken breast or beef hamburgers with salad (no chips!) Or try grilled chicken breast, spicy rice, coleslaw and green salad. Choose water or a diet fizzy drink to go with your meal, and obviously skip the dessert. Try to avoid food that’s high in fat and refined starch and sugar – pizza, deep fried chips and sugary drinks are all a bad idea.
Who said a braai couldn’t be healthy? Bring chicken or beef kebabs and braaied corn on the cob, with carrot salad and green salad on the side. These are a much better choice, and much lower in fat and carbs than boerewors and chops, garlic bread, pap and gravy or white bread rolls. And they’re delicious!
If you’re looking for delicious snacks, here are some yummy diabetic-friendly options:
|Snack||Portion||Energy||Carbohydrate (including sugar)||Fat|
|Popcorn (lite)||2 cups popped||636kj||15g*||7g|
|Dried fruit||2-4 pieces||381kj||21g||0g|
|Low GI biscuit||1 biscuit (30g)||440kj||15.3g||5.8g|
|Lean biltong||Handful (30g)||346kj||1g||2g|
* Remember that one carbohydrate portion = 15g.
Compare those to regular snacks and you’ll see the difference:
|Snack||Portion||Energy||Carbohydrate (including sugar)||Fat|
|Chocolate||1 bar (50g)||1120kj||30g||15g|
|Energy bar||1 bar (40g)||739kj||22g||7g|
|Biscuits (with icing)||2 biscuits (33g)||676kj||30g||7g|
|Sweets (boiled)||125g packet||316kj||18g||0g|
|Potato crisps||1 packet (30g)||766kj||24g||12g|
Newly diagnosed with diabetes? We get to grips with what your medical scheme can do for you, and what you might have to budget for yourself.
- Join a medical scheme
Diabetes is a chronic condition that’s on the Medical Scheme Act’s Prescribed Minimum Benefits (PMB) List. All registered medical schemes in SA have to provide basic funding for your diagnosis, treatment and care.
- Register your condition
Make sure your condition is registered with your scheme, and be sure to do this again each time you switch. Find out how the registration process works: you’re likely to have to complete a form with the help of your doctor.
- Stay on a scheme
If you leave your current scheme, or join a scheme for the first time, the new scheme may impose a waiting period of 3 to 12 months. During this time, your costs may not be fully covered. Do your research before you join a new scheme and avoid breaks where you don’t belong to a medical scheme at all.
- Use a healthcare broker
Understanding what’s covered by all the schemes out there can be complicated. Do your research with the help of a healthcare broker. Their services are free of charge.
- Reassess your plan
Once a year, you can shift from a basic to a more comprehensive plan, and vice versa. Ask your scheme for your medical records and check what you’ve had to pay out of your own pocket during the year. Do the math to see if it makes sense to upgrade or downgrade your plan.
- Check which meds are covered
Even the most basic plans cover diabetes medication, as long as you choose from the formulary (the list of approved medication). Ask for this list before you choose a plan. Your prescribed medicine might not be available on the scheme’s most basic plan, but it could be on another, more comprehensive plan, or on another scheme’s formulary list.
- Stick to Designated Service Providers (DSPs)
These healthcare providers (doctors, pharmacists and hospitals) have an agreement with your scheme, which means their rates are usually fully covered. Get hold of your scheme’s DSP list and use them. Expect a co-payment if you use a doctor outside of this network.
- Go for your consultations
This will depend on your plan, but some of your doctor’s visits will be covered up to an agreed rate. Some schemes, for example, cover annual visits to the GP, dietician, podiatrist, ophthalmologist and other specialists in full.
- Check up on tests and equipment
Diagnostic tests are usually covered in full, as well as annual HBA1c, creatinine microalbumin and lipid tests. Insulin pumps and other specialised equipment might only be covered by top-tier plans, or not at all.
- Use those additional benefits
Many of SA’s schemes offer free coaching, education and reward programmes. Make use of these benefits – they’ll help you to manage your condition better, saving you money in the long run.
From our community blog:
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?
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:
- 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.
- 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!
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.
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.