diabetes south africa
For those of you who’ve been here for a while, you’ll know that we started this online community (both here on the blog and on Facebook – Diabetic South Africans) at the same time as we started Sweet Life magazine. It’s been over 5 years, and 20 issues of our free quarterly diabetes lifestyle magazine, and the response from you – our readers – has been amazing. We are constantly told what a relief it is to find a safe space to be able to talk about diabetes, and learn from each other and our amazing Panel of Experts.
We’ve been able to print and distribute Sweet Life for free for all these years because of the generous support of our advertisers – diabetes brands who saw the worth in the information we were sharing, and wanted to be part of it. But the times are changing, as we all know, and at the beginning of this year all our major advertisers told us that their marketing budget had been removed from print and so they wouldn’t be able to advertise in Sweet Life any more. The world has turned digital!
It’s taken us a few months to decide what to do next – we knew that without the print publication every 3 months you would still need a space to be able to get information and inspiration on how to live a happy, healthy life with diabetes, so we’ve been revamping our website and social media presence. You’ll notice that we have a lot of new sections on the site, and over the next few weeks we’ll keep adding more and more articles: we want this to be a database of helpful diabetes information, with all the features from the last 20 issues of Sweet Life right here in one place. And if you prefer the magazine format, you can also read all our past issues here.
So it’s a new start for Sweet Life: an online home that draws together all the best of the past magazines and lets us move forward in a way that everyone will be able to contribute to. We’re excited to have you on this journey with us!
I’m so excited to introduce you to Gabi Richter, a Type 1 diabetic and counsellor, and a new member on our Panel of Experts who’s going to be dealing specifically with the emotional side of diabetes with a monthly column. Let us know if you have any specific questions for her! Today she’s talking about stress and diabetes.
It does not matter how long you have been diabetic, for whether it is years or if you are newly diagnosed, living with a chronic condition comes with a certain amount of stress. How you manage that stress will determine the effects it can have on your sugar levels. To much stress or mismanaged stress can affect control of your levels, however having diabetes with its constant control and management can cause stress. Therefore we need to find a workable and manageable balance between the two.
There are many definitions of stress but simply put: stress happens when pressure exceeds your perceived ability to cope. It is an emotional strain or tension that occurs when we feel that we can’t cope with pressure.
Research shows a physiological difference between pressure and stress,
People experiencing stress have higher levels of various stress hormones in their blood stream then those that merely feel challenged. When we are stressed, the body releases hormones that give cells access to stored energy known as fat and glucose to help you get away from perceived danger. This instinctive response is known as the Fight, Flight or Freeze response.
When we are confronted by a threat, a hormone called cortisol are released to help us get ready to either Fight, Flight or Freeze. This hormone allows for the increase in blood sugar for energy and an increase in blood pressure for fresh oxygen to flow to the working muscles and the release of adrenaline for heightened vigilance and alertness. However, in diabetics this instinctive response does not work well since insulin is needed to get the stored energy (glucose) to the cells and we either do not produce insulin or we produce too much of it. We are then left with an excess build-up of glucose in the blood, which results in higher levels and one more thing we need to manage and worry about.
In today’s world, it is impossible to fully avoid stress even in small doses and since the body is still programmed to release this hormone whenever it detects a threat, we as diabetics are at a bit of a disadvantage and therefore need to have a good stress management plan in place that we can fall back on when we feel stressed.
Stress can be brought on by a number of factors: a higher Hba1c or a new treatment plan or even being late and getting stuck in traffic. And then of course work and family expectations – all of these situations will lead to some level of stress. It is never a good idea to ignore stress and to think that emotions like anger and sadness don’t affect our levels, because unfortunately that is wrong and as we know everything can affect us. Ongoing stress can wear you down and lead to poor management of levels: this in turn can then lead to depression.
As diabetics we need to always look at the bigger picture and have many management programmes in place. The simplest one I have found for stress so far is to rate my stress on a scale of 1 to 10 when testing my levels and to make a note next to each reading. This will allow you to see if your high or low reading could possibly coincide with stress of any kind.
When dealing with everyday situations in life, we need to try and remember that stress of any kind is not good. Our bodies are wired to cope with a small amount of stress and for a short period, however if we continue to stress for a long period this will have negative effects on our heath. It will not only lead to depression but has also been known to lower the immune system which in turn will make us more prone to colds and illness. Therefore, we need to try and take many deep breaths when we feel overwhelmed, and to try and find ways that we can relax. Even if that means having coffee with a friend and simply talking about our problems.
– Gabi Richter
Did you know that if you have diabetes and you’re a member of a medical aid, they have to – by law – give you certain benefits for free? Nicole McCreedy explains all you need to know about PMBs.
If you’re a Type 1 or a Type 2 diabetic and you belong to a medical aid, you have the right to certain health services, known as Prescribed Minimum Benefits (PMBs). There are about 300 medical conditions where PMBs apply, and 26 of those are chronic conditions like Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.
Your health is important
PMBs were introduced to the Medical Schemes Act to protect members. It doesn’t matter how old you are, how healthy you are, or which medical aid option you are on (yes – even hospital plan counts!) Your medical aid has to provide minimum healthcare if you have a chronic condition – at no extra cost. You shouldn’t have to pay extra (over and above your monthly medical aid contribution) for certain medical services for diabetes. Because the government has made this law, it is also impossible for medical aids to charge you more or force you to lose your medical aid cover because you have a serious medical condition.
When you can (and can’t) use PMBs
What does this mean? A medical aid must pay in full, without any co-payment from you, for the diagnosis, treatment and care costs of the PMB condition (your diabetes). The medical aid cannot use your medical savings account or day-to-day benefit to pay for PMBs. Remember, though, that PMBs are subject to pre-authorisation (you have to register your PMB with the medical aid first), protocols (specific treatment and medication guidelines), and making use of designated service providers (hospitals, pharmacies and doctors that they have chosen). So you can’t expect your medical aid to cover the costs of your diabetes care unless you play by their rules, and you may not be able to get the same doctors and medicine as you had before.
Sometimes, members will not have cover for PMBs from their medical aid. This can happen if you join a medical aid for the first time (without switching from another medical aid) or if you join a new medical aid more than 90 days after leaving the previous one. If this is the case, there is a waiting period, during which you won’t have access to the PMBs for any pre-existing condition for 12 months.
Diabetes treatment and PMBs
The treatment of diabetes focuses on the control of blood sugar levels. Treatment involves all aspects of your lifestyle, especially nutrition and exercise, but most people with diabetes also use medicine (usually insulin) at some point. Treatment of other risk factors, like blood pressure and high cholesterol, is also very important.
Both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes qualify as PMBs and must be treated according to PMB regulations for diagnosis, medical management and medication. You can ask your medical aid about the following treatments that should be covered:
- Visits to your doctor (GP or specialist – if authorised).
- Dietary and disease education.
- Annual eye exam for retinopathy.
- Annual comprehensive foot exam.
- Blood tests every 3 to 6 months.
- Disease identification card or disc.
- Home blood sugar testing.
How to get your Prescribed Minimum Benefits:
Step 1: Register
Phone your medical aid and tell them you want pre-authorisation for diabetes PMBs. They will ask for a code that your doctor will be able to give you. It is very important that you have the right ICD-10 code – this gives the right information about your condition and helps the medical aid to know what benefits you are allowed. A PMB condition can only be identified by the correct ICD-10 codes. If you give the wrong ICD-10 code, your PMB services might be paid from the wrong benefit (like your medical savings account), or it might not be paid at all if your day-to-day or hospital benefit limits have run out.
Step 2: Your service will be pre-authorised
After you have registered your chronic condition for PMB, your benefits will be authorised and you can ask for your PMB schedule, which tells you exactly what you get for free.
The A to Z of PMBs
Chronic Diseases List (CDL)
A list of the 26 conditions (including diabetes) that qualify for PMBs.
Medicine used for the long-term treatment (three months or longer) of a chronic condition. The chronic medicine must be used to prevent or treat a serious medical condition, to sustain life and to delay the progress of a disease. It must also be the accepted treatment according to treatment guidelines (protocols).
The difference between the cover provided by the medical aid and the cost of the medical service – payable directly to the service provider.
Designated Service Provider (DSP)
Doctors and other health care providers who have been chosen by the aid to “provide its members diagnosis, treatment and care” for PMB conditions.
Emergency Medical Condition
A medical condition that needs immediate medical or surgical treatment.
An official list of the medication that can be prescribed for the treatment of the 26 conditions on the Chronic Diseases List (CDL).
An international clinical code that describes a disease diagnosis. If you want to qualify for PMBs, you must be sure your doctor puts the correct ICD-10 code on all your forms.
Medicine for the treatment of the 26 conditions on the Chronic Diseases List (CDL) qualifies for PMBs, as long as you provide all the necessary information. This can be anything from a diagnosis by a specialist to results of certain tests – your medical aid will tell you what you need.
Prescribed Minimum Benefits (PMBs)
The minimum benefits that must be provided to all medical aid members. These include diagnosis, treatment and care costs for a number of conditions, including diabetes.
Protocols (Treatment Guidelines)
There is a minimum standard treatment for each PMB condition. Medical aids use these guidelines to come up with protocols (treatment guidelines) and formularies (lists of approved medication) to manage PMBs.
This article was reviewed by:
- Alain Peddle, Discovery Health
- Herman van Zyl, Principal financial advisor, HVZ Financial Consultants
- Rossouw van Zyl, Brokers, t/a Medinet, Authorised Financial Service Provider
- Michael A.J. Brown, Accredited Diabetes Educator, Centre for Diabetes and Endocrinology, Houghton
Recent research suggests that a certain kind of surgery may “cure” Type 2 diabetes. We find out more, and give you the facts.
One of the experts in the field of gastric bypass surgery is Professor Tess van der Merwe, the president of the South African Society for Obesity and Metabolism, who have been sharing information about the surgery. We found out what it could mean for Type 2 diabetes, then asked our experts to weigh in on the topic.
Is this surgery a cure for Type 2 diabetes?
Gastric bypass surgery has been used to help obese people lose weight since it was first performed 20 years ago. But now there is new research that this same surgery (specifically a type called “laparoscopic Roux–en–Y gastric bypass”) could cause Type 2 diabetes to go into long-term remission. What does this mean? Type 2 diabetes could be “paused” for a number of years. An international study shows that about 90% of obese patients with Type 2 diabetes who go for this surgery have normal blood sugar and no evidence of diabetes for three to fifteen years.
Is it a cure? No. But it is possibly a very long break from a chronic condition.
Some might say that any surgery that causes very overweight people to lose weight will have a good effect on blood sugar, but experts say the difference can be seen before the weight is lost. Professor Francesco Rubino (a leader in surgery for Type 2 diabetes) was in Johannesburg for the 3rd Centres for Metabolic Medicine and Surgery Workshop. He said that a few days after a gastric bypass, patients with Type 2 diabetes show normal blood sugar levels, even before any weight has been lost.
Ask the expert: Dr. Joel Dave, endocrinologist
“Bariatric surgery is becoming an important part of the treatment of diabetic patients with a BMI over 35. But although the results with this surgery are very good, it is still an invasive procedure with potential complications. It should not be considered a shortcut to weight loss and diabetes improvement, but a last resort after a low calorie diet and structured exercise programme has failed.”
What if the Type 2 diabetic ate badly and didn’t exercise, and returns to this same lifestyle – will the surgery still work?
The surgery doesn’t just help the patient by making their stomach smaller. It also triggers changes to the hormones, the appetite and the metabolism, so that long-term change is possible. But it is not a magical cure – the patient has to be ready to make changes to their diet and exercise. As Prof. van der Merwe points out, “There is not a single treatment in medicine that will be immune to an uncooperative patient.” In other words, if the patient goes back to a diet of fast food and no exercise, the same problems will return. One of the ways they guard against this in the Centres of Excellence (where they do the surgery) is by coaching the patient to start new, positive habits. They have a team of experts to help with this.
Ask the expert: Genevieve Jardine, dietician
“It is my opinion that gastric bypass surgery may be a good option for those who have a high BMI (above 35) and have tried for many years to lose weight. If they are managed well after surgery and take this opportunity to start over, it could mean a second chance at health. It is important to remember, though, that it still comes down to diet and exercise. Lifelong lifestyle changes are still the foundation of good diabetes management.”
How extreme is the surgery?
The surgery is minimally invasive. It is also known as laparoscopic surgery, keyhole surgery or bandaid surgery because the cuts made are so small – on average 0.5 to 1.5 cm. The doctor uses images on TV screens to magnify the surgery so they can see what they need to do.
Ask the expert: Dr. Joel Dave, endocrinologist
“Although the procedure is minimally invasive there are still some potentially serious complications. The patient’s decision to have this surgery must not be taken lightly.”
Is the surgery covered by medical aids?
That depends on how urgently you need it. In order to work that out, doctors look at your BMI (Body Mass Index), which outlines whether you are underweight, at a healthy weight, or overweight (see the box on this page). Diabetic patients with a BMI over 35 may be able to get the surgery covered if they have a motivation letter from a Metabolic Centre for Excellence, and if they are on the right medical aid option. There is usually a 20 to 30% co-payment that the patient would have to pay.
Have there been any local studies?
A South African study based at Netcare Waterfall City Hospital tracked 820 patients who had not been able to lose weight for up to 18 years before they had surgery. Three years later, 88.5% of the patients who had diabetes at the time of the surgery still had normal blood sugar levels.
Is there anyone it won’t work on?
This surgery is only an option for Type 2 diabetics who are very overweight – with a BMI greater than 35. They are doing research on lower BMI’s as well.
Want to find out more?
How to work out your BMI
There are many websites (http://www.smartbmicalculator.com/) that calculate BMI for you, but if you want to do it yourself, here’s what you need:
- Your weight.
- Your height in metres.
- A piece of paper and a calculator!
First, find out the square of your height in metres (your height times your height, i.e. 1,5m x 1,5m).
Then do this sum: (Weight in kg) divided by (square of height in metres)
You should get a number between 18.5 and 40.
- Less than 18.5 means you are underweight.
- 18.5 to 25 means you are at a healthy weight.
- 25 to 30 means you are slightly overweight.
- More than 30 means you are very overweight (obese).
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!
Ask the dietician: Genevieve Jardine
When someone is newly diagnosed with diabetes, it’s helpful to start with very simple dietary advice as they come to terms with the necessary lifestyle changes. The spectrum of food choices for diabetics involves “good choices” on one end and “bad choices” on the other. In the middle lies ‘moderation’, which can be adapted to the individual depending on personal factors and other conditions like blood pressure or cholesterol.
Here, we’ll break down what good and bad choices look like in each of the food groups – proteins, starches and sugars, vegetables, fruit, fats and oils, and drinks.
Proteins: meat, chicken, fish, eggs and dairy
- Fish more frequently (especially fatty fish like salmon, trout and mackerel)
- Eggs, especially boiled eggs
- Plain yoghurts, milk and cottage cheese
- Plant-based protein options like beans, lentils and chickpeas, instead of meat
- Using chicken that has skin removed (preferably grass-fed)
- Game meat that is very low in fat
- Deep fried meat, chicken and fish
- Very fatty red meats and processed meats
- Diary that has been sweetened, like ice cream
- Imitation cheese and coffee creamers
Starches and sugars
- Unprocessed, high fibre starches like sweet potatoes, rolled oats, brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, buckwheat and barley.
- Items made with wholegrain flour with little or no added sugar such as wholegrain bread, crackers and cereals.
- Any food item that has a lot of sugar added, like sweets, chocolates and biscuits.
- Refined flours that have been processed and bleached white such as white flour, white breads, white crackers, white rice and refined cereals (especially if the cereals have sugar added).
- Deep fried starches such as doughnuts, koeksisters, vetkoek, fried potato chips and crisps.
- Homegrown, fresh or even frozen vegetables with emphasis on lots of different colours. Try to eat a rainbow of vegetables. Eat them raw, juice them, steam them or bake the root vegetables for maximum nutrient retention.
- Fresh herbs and spices like garlic, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, mint, rosemary and coriander.
- Vegetables that have been boiled
- Vegetables with thick sauces
- Canned vegetables which are higher in salt (for those people who need to watch their salt intake)
- Fresh fruit in season
- Fruits with a naturally lower sugar content, such as berries, apples and citrus
- Fruit juices
- Dried fruit with sugar coating
- Fruit canned in a thick syrup
Fats and oils
- Foods that are naturally high in fats like olives, avocado, nuts and seeds
- Good quality oils such as extra virgin cold pressed olive oil
- Foods that are high in trans fatty acids and hydrogenated vegetable oils (read the food labels to spot these words).
- High quantities of plant seed oils like sunflower and canola oil (usually deep fried products).
- Filtered water flavoured naturally with lemon or mint
- Herbal teas
- Sugary drinks such as sports drinks, fizzy drinks, iced tea, flavoured water.
- Alcoholic beverages that are high in sugar, such as cocktails, dessert wines and fruity mixed drinks.
Ask the dietician: Genevieve Jardine
From the community: “Every year I hold a National Heritage Day feast for my friends and serve up all the South African classics: boerewors rolls, koeksisters, samoosas, shisa nyama and curry. This year I have a diabetic friend coming and don’t want him to feel left out. How do I make the feast more diabetes-friendly?” Nashikta Singh
National Heritage Day is about celebrating the mixed flavours of South Africa, and there’s no better way to do this than by showing off our traditional dishes. Coming together around the braai or dining room table lets us share our past and create our future.
Traditional South African dishes have a lot of flavour and nutrition. Many of the classic dishes are naturally diabetes-friendly, while others may require some simple changes.
Made with onions, tomatoes, carrots, chillis, garlic, cabbage and cauliflower. It is packed with nutrients, fibre and flavour.
Tip: Don’t use too much oil while making chakalaka.
Mielie meal is a starch, so it will affect blood sugar. For better blood glucose control, you can cook it the night before and then reheat it on the day. This lowers the GI (glycemic index) of the pap.
Tip: Mix pap with cooked beans to further reduce the GI.
Use lean cuts of meat and fill the pot with a wide variety of vegetables. This method of cooking keeps the nutrients locked in the sauce.
Tip: Add plenty of non-starchy vegetables like baby marrows and green beans.
Curry and bobotie
The beauty of Indian cooking is all the herbs and spices. Garlic, onion, fresh chilli, turmeric, coriander and clove are all great for your health. Try to use lean cuts of meat (extra lean mince) and serve with small portions of brown basmati rice and vegetables.
Tip: Bean or lentil curry make an excellent starch alternative.
Shisa nyama or braai
Traditionally, braai meat is fatty (brisket, boerewors, chicken wings) and served chargrilled. Try to use leaner cuts of meat like skinless chicken or sirloin, with different marinades to keep the meat tender. Don’t only think meat when it comes to a braai: mielies, butternut, sweet potatoes and madumbes are also delicious.
Some traditional foods, like lean biltong or air-fried samoosas, can be altered to make them healthier. But when it comes to things like vetkoek and koeksisters, there’s not much you can do!
Ask the dietician: Cheryl Meyer
From our community: “Sometimes it feels like I’m constantly trying to juggle what I want to eat and what I should be eating. Are there certain foods I must include in my diet because I’m diabetic?” Gracie Monaheng
The term “superfood” has become very popular in the language of food and health. We know that Mother Nature offers a wonderful selection of healthy foods, but research has yet to prove any of them magical. No single food, no matter how “super,” can take the place of the important combination of nutrients from a diet based on a variety of nutritious foods, including plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Some tests to help you decide whether a certain food is worth trying:
- How does it taste? No food is worth eating if it doesn’t taste good. There are plenty of options to choose from that offer both health benefits and flavour.
- Where was it grown? Has it had to travel long distances from where it was grown to where it was sold?
- How much does it cost? Has its “super” title brought with it a “super” price tag?
- Has it been researched? Check with your healthcare team.
- What value does it add to my overall diet? Variety is an important measure of diet quality, but bear in mind that adding variety doesn’t necessarily mean trying wildly new things: even just a slight change can wake up your taste buds.
Think positive when planning your diet — focusing on foods to add, rather than avoid. Aim to include*:
- Omega-3 rich foods: like salmon, mackerel, pilchards, tuna, canola oil, flaxseed oil, flaxseeds and walnuts.
- Leafy green vegetables: like spinach, kale, lettuce and bok choi. These powerhouse foods are low in kilojoules and total carbohydrate.
- Wholegrains: easily trump their paler, refined counterparts. Choose brown or wholewheat options for a source of protein, fibre and B vitamins.
- Berries: sweet, yet low in calories and packed with antioxidants, vitamins and fibre.
- Nuts: plenty of flavour, very versatile and with a good dose of fibre and selenium. Although they are high in fat and calories, a few nuts go a long way to adding taste to all kinds of meals.
- Legumes: delicious, low in fat, high in fibre and rich in protein.
*As with all foods, you need to work these into your individual meal plan in appropriate portions.
Ask the dietician: Genevieve Jardine
From the community: “I don’t understand the whole ‘low carbs high fat or high protein’ idea – how do carbs, fat and protein work together? Is there a happy middle ground, or does it need to be all or nothing?” Wessel Jones
To understand what all the fuss is about, we need to look at the history of diabetes treatment. Treating diabetes (both Type 1 and Type 2) by lowering carbohydrates (carbs) has come and gone out of fashion over the last century. This debate is not a new one and it is probably not going to go away.
Before the invention of insulin, the only way for a diabetic to survive was to cut out the foods (carbs) affecting blood glucose. With the advent of insulin, the focus switched from lowering carbs to lowering fat to help reduce heart disease. Fast forward a couple of decades and we can see that we have failed in reducing obesity, diabetes or heart disease. It’s not as simple as just diet: it’s about physical activity, stress, diet and environment.
How do carbs work in the body?
What is quite simple is that carbs cause blood sugar to rise and the more carbs you eat, the higher the blood sugar goes. If a person wants to control their blood sugar, it’s a very good idea to reduce carbs. The big question is: how low do you go? A “low carbohydrate diet” can have anything from 20g to 130g of carbohydrate per day.
Remember: One portion of carb (a medium apple, a slice of bread) = 15g carb
The amount of carbs depends on the individual, their control, their medication and their weight. There is a growing amount of scientific evidence that low carb diets improve glucose control and help with weight loss.
Where do fat and protein fit in?
When carbs are cut, the amount of protein or fat (or both) go up. And this is where the debate heats up. The concern is not the low carb, but the increase in saturated fat or fat in general. Remember that not all fat is the enemy and there are good fats that play a very important role in the body.
A benefit of protein and fat is that in the immediate, they do not cause the same spikes in blood sugar. When you lower carb intake you have an immediate blood sugar lowering effect. When this happens, and you have fewer spikes and dips in blood sugar, your appetite is better controlled. The fuller you feel, the less likely you are to snack and the fewer kilojoules you consume. The fewer kilojoules you consume, the more likely you are to lose weight.
The problem with the low carb approach is that, like everything else, it needs to be a lifestyle. When you add carbs back into your diet you will put on weight, especially if you have increased your fat and/or protein. You can’t have it all: full fat products and also carbs. The most important goal is to increase your vegetable intake and try to eat as close to nature as possible. Eat foods in their most original form.
When it comes to deciding on the right ratio of carbs : fat : protein, work with a dietician. It may take time to find your correct balance and you need to be monitored properly with blood tests and possible medication adjustments.