Diabetics ask others with diabetes for advice.
Most adults aren’t getting the sleep their bodies and minds crave – and this includes those of us with diabetes. Before diagnosis, common symptoms of diabetes like frequent urination, dizziness and restless leg syndrome can cause severe sleep disturbances… After diagnosis, many Type 1 diabetics have to worry about low blood sugar during the night, and it can be difficult to switch off.
Here are some tips to ensure a good night’s rest:
Whether it’s stretching, praying, bathing, meditating or reading, it’s important to find whatever helps you relax before bed. By de-stressing, you can lower your heart rate and clear your head, simulating the body’s natural progression into sleep. A simple ritual like a cup of chamomile tea, no screens and dimmed lighting for an hour before bed can work wonders.
Activity-based forms of de-stressing, like yoga, have a particular benefit to diabetics. The slow movement can help boost your body’s response to insulin and improve blood flow. Try out a few of these relaxation techniques at night to prepare your mind and body for better sleep.
Everyone has individual preferences for their bed: soft and plushy for some, but firm and hard for others. Whatever your choice, make sure your bedding is what works for your specific needs.
If you often wake up with achey bones, try out a more supportive foam mattress, and if you dread laying your head down on an old pillow, revamp it. Those with diabetes are at a higher risk of insomnia, so bedding that encourages individual comfort is key.
Every diabetic knows that a well-rounded diet is an important part of healthy living. Your choice of dinner, however, can also impact your ability to fall asleep at night. A meal comprised of nuts, fish, leafy greens and whole grains will contain plenty of sleep-promoting nutrients like magnesium, melatonin and omega 3s. Check out these healthy recipes for inspiration to whip up a dinner that will help you sleep!
Unfortunately, there is no perfect solution to getting better sleep. But with these tips and listening to your body when making decisions about how and when you sleep, you should be able to get some proper rest… Do you have any helpful sleep tips to add?
Our regular contributor Jane Sandwood tackles the topic of how to quit smoking if you have diabetes. Have you managed to quit smoking? Do you have any advice to share? Tell us your experiences, here or on Facebook, and it might help the rest of the South African diabetes community.
The health risks of smoking with diabetes
The health risks of smoking with diabetes are well documented; however, curbing nicotine addiction while managing your diabetes adds another layer of complexity to a notoriously difficult task. In South Africa, the prevalence of diabetes is increasingly rapidly, which in turn raises the stakes for smokers with diabetes to quit while controlling glucose levels. Because standard nicotine replacement options such as patches and e-cigarettes aren’t safe for diabetics, either, many are left with the daunting prospect of going cold turkey without a tangible removal plan. Fortunately, a range of treatment options exists for diabetics looking to quit smoking while managing their disease.
Early stages and treatment plans
Before quitting, smokers should consult their doctors to determine the best course of action. Because smoking suppresses appetite, some research suggests that diabetics who quit smoking struggle to control their blood sugar levels. As a result, individual diets may need adjustment to prepare for withdrawal from nicotine. Doctors can work with patients to devise a schedule or pattern that best suits their needs.
Most smokers will attempt to quit dozens of times before they are successful. While some attempt to gradually wean themselves off cigarettes, others go “cold turkey” and quit all at once. Although individual results vary, some research suggests that smokers who quit “cold turkey” were more successful than those who quit gradually. At any rate, it’s important to remember that quitting smoking is a continual process, and not something that happens ‘all at once’–even if you can pinpoint your last cigarette to a specific day. It’s normal to have setbacks, and plenty of ex-smokers can attest to the efficacy of quitting cigarettes, even it takes more than one attempt.
Moving forward with quitting smoking
Normally, diabetics will be able to quickly observe improvements and results in their own health within weeks of quitting smoking, which can encourage efforts to absolve from nicotine. It is also a good idea to consult medically supported research on the trajectory of nicotine withdrawal to give you a broader sense of what’s happening to your body as you continue the process of nicotine withdrawal. It may also be a good plan to keep a journal logging changes in mood, diet, blood sugar level, and other related factors to track individual growth throughout the process.
Quitting smoking is a frightening prospect for anyone addicted to nicotine, least of all diabetics. However, many viable treatment plans exist to help curb nicotine in a manner that is effective and safe. It won’t take much time to benefit from the wide range of advantages to quitting smoking as you continue the ongoing process of diabetic care.
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.
From our community blog:
I am new to this site.
Last night I was at the casualty section of Wilgeheuwel Hospital in Joburg because my 2 year-8-month year old son has been very listless and vomited and I thought he probably had gastro. He was diagnosed about 2 hours ago with Type 1 diabetes and was taken straight to ICU to be stabilised and to have tests done.
This was an overwhelming, terrifying moment for me — I know very little about Type 1 Diabetes and my OCD thinking went into a tailspin about “what if he is in a situation one day where there is no insulin available and and and…”
Forgive me for sounding so panicked, but I am utterly at sea and trying to come to grips with the news. I am writing in the hope that someone can tell me everything’s going to be okay – that the ‘episodes’ or emergency situations will be able to be handled with confidence and success, and that (bar all the huge adaptations we’ll make to our lives), he will be okay.
I’d really appreciate any comfort anyone can give to this totally inexperienced, upset mom.
My son is also a diabetic. He was diagnosed at age 12, nearly 6 years ago. I just wanted to say: hang in there. Your child will be okay. He will one day be able to cope with this all. Just remember that this is not your fault. Nothing could have prevented this. Do join our group on Facebook: Kids powered by insulin. This group has helped me through some tough times.
Remember there is light at the end of the tunnel. Keep the faith. It will get better, that I promise.
All will be okay as long as you take care of it and treat it accordingly.
Keep monitoring your son’s diabetes and it will be fine!
Oh my, I know the feeling of absolute devastation! I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes three years ago at an oldish age, and I live alone, and thought the world had come to an end. Obviously for such a little one it is very difficult… I’m very aware of what I eat. Living with diabetes is difficult, but doable.
Hypoglycemic episodes (hypos) can be a scary experience for all involved: here’s what you need to know to deal with one.
- A hypo is a sudden low blood sugar episode.
- The optimal blood glucose range is 4 to 7mmol/l. With a hypo, blood glucose levels are usually lower than 3mmol/l.
- Initial symptoms are nervousness, sweating, intense hunger, trembling, weakness, palpitations, or trouble speaking (depending on the person).
- The best thing to treat a hypo is fast-acting carbohydrates: 15-20g of sugary carb (a few sweets, 2 tablespoons of raisins, a tablespoon of honey or half a cup of fruit juice).
- The key is to catch low blood sugar early – as soon as it starts dropping – and treat it with a small dose of something sweet.
- If blood glucose drops too low it can get to the stage where the brain is not getting enough glucose.
- Symptoms of this are confusion, drowsiness, changes in behaviour, seizure and eventually coma.
- In case of a severe hypo, a glucagon emergency kit may be necessary. This once-off injection instantly raises the blood sugar, and is particularly useful when the person with diabetes is unconscious or unable to swallow.
- Notify all those close to you what to do in an emergency and how to use a glucagon injection.
- Test often to keep your levels as well controlled as possible.
“One of my children has diabetes, the other doesn’t. How do I make changes that the whole family can adopt so that my daughter doesn’t feel like she’s making our lives more difficult because of diabetes?” Fatima Richards.
The emotions that parents deal with when a child is diagnosed with diabetes are the same as any serious medical condition. Confusion, shock, denial, sadness, anger, fear and guilt are some of these emotions.
Unfortunately, guilt is a feeling common to many family members, the patient as well as the parents. I believe that guilt is one of the most destructive negative emotions – it drains you so that you can’t focus on more important things.
Getting the whole family to deal with these feelings openly at the time of diagnosis helps with long term adjustment. As you all learn to live with diabetes, you will become more used to it and find ways to fit it into your life more naturally. Fitting diabetes care into as normal a life as possible is the major goal.
Remember, too, that if all family members have a positive attitude, life with diabetes will be much easier. One day at a time is a good option!
How to help the whole family adjust to diabetes:
- Keep your family routine as close to the previous ‘normal’ as possible.
- Whenever possible, fit diabetes care around your child’s lifestyle, rather than her life revolving around diabetes.
- Remember, children with diabetes are children first. Their diabetes should not define who they are.
- Explain any changes that are made because of diabetes to everyone in the family.
- Remember that nobody is being punished because of the diabetes. Everyone is just going to follow a healthier lifestyle. And this is a good thing.
– Jeannie Berg, Diabetes Educator
From Facebook (Diabetic South Africans):
What’s the secret to a happy life with diabetes?
To not make it an issue. Treat it and forget it. Life is too short.
Most people suffer some type of illness, but we all have to just deal with it and get on with our lives.
Sorry to all those optimistic people out there… but there is no happy life with diabetes 🙁
Finding the right balance… While diabetes is not a good thing to have, one certainly does still have a happy life. Be informed… and that goes for your spouse and family members too.
Support and understanding from the people closest to you makes it easier to live with.
When Vickie de Beer’s son Lucca was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, she started a journey that ended with her publishing an award-winning cookbook and lifestyle guide: The Low Carb Solution for Diabetics.
Looking back, what do you wish you’d known when Lucca was first diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes?
That insulin takes much longer to reach the blood stream than we were told. I had a lot of anxiety about Lucca going into a hypo after eating, and it was completely unnecessary. I also wish I knew what a huge impact carbohydrates had on his blood sugar! We did carb count and test and inject diligently, but there were always unexplained highs and lows that frustrated me and made Lucca feel awful.
What inspired you to write The Low Carb Solution for Diabetics?
We have always, from the first day, taken Lucca’s diabetes seriously. We did everything the doctors and dietician told us. We adapted our diet to eating only low GI foods and tested Lucca’s blood sugars diligently. Every time we went to the doctor they congratulated us on his great HbA1c result and said that we were doing everything possible for Lucca’s health.
The doctor always said that the next step would be to control the extreme fluctuations between high spikes and lows in Lucca’s blood sugar. I could never get clear information on how we were supposed do that though, apart from doing what we were already doing. About a year ago I met Prof Tim Noakes at the book launch of Real Meal Revolution. We significantly reduced our carbohydrate intake, but did not remove carbohydrate completely from our diet.
I didn’t understand how we could remove all the carbohydrates from Lucca’s diet as suggested by the LCHF (Low Carb High Fat) movement. We were taught that children needed carbohydrates for energy, growth and brain function and I also knew that Lucca needed to get insulin. If we took away the carbohydrates how would he get the insulin he needed? I still gave the children small amounts of Low GI carbs like brown rice and brown pasta with their evening meals. Lucca’s blood sugar did not improve significantly – I would say that we were on a moderate carb diet.
A few months ago I made contact with a group in the USA that follow a low carb high protein (not high fat) diet with great success in managing steady blood glucose levels in Type I diabetic children. This way of managing diabetes is based on a book: Dr Bernstein’s Diabetic Solution. Dr Bernstein has been a Type 1 diabetic for 69 years. After reading his book and studying various other low carb websites and books, we decided to change the way we eat.
Do you have any tips for people who feel overwhelmed at the thought of changing their way of eating?
Do it gradually. We started with breakfast (because the boys love bacon!) and then did dinners – lunchboxes were the last!
What advice would you offer to people living with diabetes who are struggling?
Diabetes is in the details. The best tool is to test constantly and diligently. The bottom line is that cutting carbs makes diabetes easier to manage. All the hundreds of reasons I used to give to explain Lucca’s unstable sugar – the heat, stress, tiredness – it was always the carbs!
What makes your life sweet?
Hugs from my boys! Playing board games with them (and winning), swimming and braaing with them, reading with them… The fact that Lucca’s blood sugar is under control has changed our lives. We had a lot of anxiety in our life beforehand. Although we still test and inject diligently, the anxiety is gone. I think we have finally taken control of diabetes, and diabetes has lost its control over us.
Get in touch with Vickie: @Vickiefantastic on Twitter
“My dad is a poorly controlled Type 2 diabetic, and he doesn’t seem to care. I keep telling him how serious his condition is and that he has to take care of himself, but he continues eating whatever he likes and says he’s too old to change. What can I do?” Celeste Damen.
It isn’t easy for people to hear that they have diabetes. Diabetes is a condition that cannot be cured: it has to be taken care of every day. People who have diabetes have to make some important changes in their lives, but if the change is forced on them, they may not want to do it.
This is what is probably happening with your dad. He most likely knows exactly how important it is to look after his diabetes, but might still be in denial or angry that this inconvenience has been brought into his life.
The fear you feel for your dad’s condition also projects to him, and he is probably trying to reassure you by giving you excuses that he is too old to change or that the situation is not that serious.
Instead of telling Dad what to do and being cross with him when he doesn’t do the right thing, you need to ask him what changes he is willing and able to make. Then encourage him to follow through on what the two of you have decided.
Diabetes has not only happened to him: it has happened to your whole family. This is something all of you have to accept. It’s a good idea to get the whole family to adopt healthy habits, so that there will be less temptation… Offer your dad help, but try not to be the Diabetes Police.
– Jeannie Berg, Diabetes Educator
Yoga is not only a fantastic form of strengthening exercise, it’s also great for calming the mind – something most of us with diabetes need to do! Bridget McNulty finds out more.
As a diabetic, the one thing I hear over and over is that exercise is good for me. And it is! But sometimes exercise feels a bit too much like… well… hard work. Not so with yoga. I started doing yoga a few months ago and I’m totally hooked – it has just the right balance of strengthening, balancing and heart-racing poses, and I love that we get to meditate after each class. I asked yoga teacher Tasha Saha why she thinks yoga is particularly good for diabetics.
“As well as better fitness and cardiovascular health, yoga massages and stimulates the function of the internal organs, balances the endocrine system and has measurable effects on the release of stress hormones,” she says. “All of these are factors that affect blood sugar, so it’s no surprise that several major studies have shown that regularly doing yoga can significantly reduce blood sugar levels.” Another aspect of yoga that sets it apart from other exercise is that it increases body awareness, which makes it easier to maintain a healthy weight and to make wiser food choices.
But which yoga to choose? In general, hot yoga (Bikram) and flow yoga (Ashtanga) are more demanding, so it’s better to begin with a slower practice like Hatha or Iyengar. Some poses (especially those that are active in the abdominal area and lower back) are particularly good for diabetics because they target the pancreas, promoting better function and helping to lower blood sugar levels. “But a balanced yoga session will work holistically on every system in the body,” says Tasha, “as well as the mind and emotions too – lowering stress levels and helping the whole person towards balance.”
I can honestly say that my yoga practice has helped me feel not only stronger and fitter, but calmer and more able to take on the daily challenges of diabetes.
Want to give it a try? Many yoga studios offer free trial periods or classes to beginners. Most gyms also offer yoga classes at a fraction of the price of private classes.
When Roxanne and Derick de Villiers wanted to enroll their son Noah in pre-school, they didn’t think diabetes would be an issue. When it turned out it was, they turned the situation around.
Can you tell us about Noah’s diagnosis?
It was just before his 3rd birthday. When Noah got really sick and then diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, we were really emotional. Here was our little boy who had this huge change in his young life: nurses and needles – that’s a picture we will never forget. But we can promise you this: in the midst of those overwhelming emotions, your parental instinct to protect your child immediately kicks in and your mind opens up so much to take in all that you need to. There is an urgency to get on top of the changes and adapt as quickly as possible.
Has it become any easier with time?
It has, it really has. You know that old saying that time is a healer? We believe time is a teacher. Diabetes is now second nature and so much a part of life. Having other family members also educated about Type 1 diabetes has made it easier as well because they can also test and inject when necessary.
When did Noah start pre-school?
Noah actually started pre-school the January before he was diagnosed with Type 1. When the pre-school was informed about him being diagnosed, the principal and his class teacher were at the hospital and were really supportive about this change in his life. What really impacted our lives positively was that they were prepared to learn and take part in this process too.
Could you tell us about the school application process?
At Noah’s first pre-school in 2012, he was already enrolled ahead of being diagnosed. We then made a home move and Noah needed to move pre-schools too. The school we enquired at for enrolment was amazing. Applying for Grade R was a little bit different and more involved. They had never had an application that included full disclosure of the child having Type 1 diabetes. We had a few meetings with the Executive Head and we pressed on for the understanding that we (the school and parents) could put a fair process in place that would protect both the child and the school without discarding school laws.
We needed to be a voice for Noah, for other diabetic children to follow and especially for the parents of diabetic children who go through this worry and want to enroll their precious children at the schools of their choice. The Executive Head and Regional Head of Noah’s grade school were true blessings because they agreed to put the suggested process in place and were on board to becoming the forward thinking, proactive and progressive school that they are. A beautiful school/parent relationship exists now.
What advice would you offer to other parents about diabetes education in schools?
The education is ongoing. It is never a once-off. Urge the school to have more teacher / parent sessions to talk openly about Type 1 diabetes. Whether your medical support is private or public, involve the nurse, the pediatrician, or the professor looking after your child. There is a big need, a big want and a big drive for education in this area. Minds need to be changed about diabetes and its management within the school system.
What makes your life sweet?
For Noah, having control of the DSTV remote and the Smart Tab and for us, his parents, seeing him so confident and secure even though he lives with diabetes.
Photos taken at Noah’s current school, Curro Century City.
“I’m looking for some tips or advice on how to communicate better with my diabetic wife. She has Type 1 diabetes and when she goes low it’s sometimes hard for me to know what to do, and hard for her to explain how she’s feeling. Also when she goes high, but low is more of a problem, because it can get dangerous. Any tips?” Luke Jacobs.
I think it’s really great that you are involved in helping your wife cope with her diabetes. The challenges faced by those who care about someone with diabetes are rarely discussed, and very real.
Diabetes is riddled with valleys and waves, otherwise known as lows and highs, and this can be totally frustrating – as well as scary – both for the diabetic and their spouse. Good diabetes management limits the frequency of lows and highs, but there is no guarantee. And there are so many factors that can influence blood sugar that there’s no such thing as a ‘perfect’ diabetic.
So what now?
First of all it’s important for you to be able to identify when your wife is going low. Sometimes, people who have had diabetes for a long time lose the ability to feel their lows – this is where you come in. Learn how to treat a low. Keep some glucose sweets or jelly beans with you so that you can help her if her blood sugar suddenly drops. Don’t be afraid to suggest she checks her blood sugar if you think she’s acting funny.
The trick is to be diplomatic about this. The last thing a wife with diabetes wants is pity – and what woman can be responsible for being snippy when her blood sugar is at 3mmol/L?
– Jeannie Berg, Diabetes Educator
Ask the dietician: Genevieve Jardine
From the community: “My wife and I love having friends over for sundowners but never know what drinks to offer and what snacks to serve so that I can actually enjoy myself too. Any advice?” Riyaaz Benjamin.
Luckily, there is a way to enjoy (guilt-free) sundowners… It just takes a little planning. Let’s take a look at the when, what and where of it.
The main problem with sundowners lies with the timing. As the name suggests, they usually occur long after lunch and just before supper. This means that you may arrive hungry and tired with low blood sugar levels: a recipe for overeating, drinking (sugary) alcohol on an empty stomach, and filling up on unhealthy snack food. After sundowners, you may then go for supper, which means even more food and alcohol.
The key? Sundowners are best handled when prepared. Make sure you have an afternoon snack just before arriving (preferably one that contains protein to help stabilise blood sugar levels). Upfront, decide to either have the snacks as a replacement dinner (only a good idea if there are healthy snack options) or hold back and leave room for a light supper.
What is being dished up? The good news is that sundowner snacks are usually savoury and not sweet. The bad news is that savoury snacks – like chips and cream dip, sausage rolls and salty peanuts – are often high in starch and fat. Try to choose the healthiest options on the table, and don’t forget to dish up a plate rather than snacking so that you know exactly how much you’re eating.
Sundowners are also synonymous with cocktails (not the right choice of drink for anyone with diabetes!) When it comes to alcohol, good options are light beer, a wine spritzer made with Sprite Zero or soda water, or single spirit tots with diet mixers. Sparkling water with ice, lemon and cucumber is a refreshing drink if you’re not in the mood for alcohol.
Healthy snack ideas:
- Lean proteins like nuts, lean biltong and grilled strips of chicken or beef.
- Fresh vegetables like cucumber strips, baby carrots, baby tomatoes and celery sticks, served with a low-fat cottage cheese, avo or salsa dip.
The last thing to consider is where the sundowners are being held. If you’re hosting or going to a friend’s house, you can simply bring along what you would prefer to eat and drink. Restaurants can be more challenging, but easily overcome with a bit of forward planning. Call the restaurant beforehand and make sure that there are snacks or drinks on hand that you can enjoy. Most restaurants are more than willing to help – if not, at least you know and can plan for the evening.
Having diabetes doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a cold drink and a delicious snack as the sun goes down, it just means you need to forward plan a little to enjoy it!
Keeping your diabetes in check as you get older is not only possible, but important. Here’s what you need to remember.
- Diet is vital: be sure to eat as balanced a diet as possible. Not eating the right kind of food or often enough can result in low blood sugar. Drinking plenty of water is also important.
- The average HbA1c in the elderly population in SA is within national guidelines at around 7.3. What’s yours?
- Be prepared and always have at least 3 days of supplies on hand for testing and treating your diabetes.
- Hypos (low blood sugar) are a risk, especially in Type 2 diabetics who are on SUs (sulphonylureas). Severe hypos can result in comas, so it’s important to know how to treat them.
- Always keep a glucagon pen on hand for hypo emergencies (and make sure you’ve told someone close to you how to use it).
- Controlling Type 2 diabetes with Glucophage or Galvus can have a life-changing effect.
- It’s important to have regular blood pressure and cholesterol tests, and annual kidney, eye, teeth and feet check-ups.
- It’s a good idea for any diabetics over 65 years old to have a pneumonia vaccine shot. An annual flu shot is also beneficial.
- Keep active as it helps with mobility, balance, strength, mental wellbeing and insulin sensitivity.
- Studies show that older diabetics are more compliant than teenagers, the newly diagnosed, and even pregnant diabetics.
Bridget McNulty finds out what reflexology is all about, and if there’s any chance it can help those with diabetes.
Before I went for a reflexology session, I didn’t know much about it. I knew it was more than a foot massage, but didn’t really see how pressing a few points on my feet could affect my health and wellness.
Reflexology, it turns out, is a therapy that uses specific finger, thumb and hand pressure techniques on the different reflex areas, or zones of the feet, to correlate with different organs of the body. A reflexologist can tell you a lot about your body by feeling for congestion and imbalances in the feet, which show up as tightness, sensitivity or grainy areas. They can also ‘read’ the feet: the shape of the feet, the valleys and peaks, and how they respond to pressure.
The South African Reflexology Society has been recognized by the medical profession, and all reflexologists have to register with the Allied Health Professions Council. But what does a reflexology session actually feel like? Well, at first it is a little uncomfortable. The therapist looks for areas of tension or imbalance, and these are rubbed or pressed until they loosen. It’s like having a really firm massage: not painful, but not necessarily soothing. It is deeply relaxing, though, an hour of having your feet worked on feels like a few hours of sleep, and Lulu Beyers, the therapist I went to, says she has a lot of insomniacs as patients!
Reflexology, like most alternative therapies, has to be given on a regular basis to really see the results and changes in the body – the changes are slow but can be very positive, especially when it comes to treating complications of diabetes, like numbness in the feet. There have been a number of studies done on diabetes and reflexology (including self-reflexology, like the example below). The studies are mainly in Korea and China, as reflexology is an accepted form of healing in the East. (It began in 2330BC in Egypt, then spread to India, and from there to China and Japan.) Many of these studies show that reflexology is helpful in improving peripheral neuropathy, especially tingling sensation and pain, as well as slightly lowering blood sugar – perhaps due to a reduction in stress from the relaxing nature of the treatments – and an improvement in fatigue and mood.
Whether this is because of the nurturing nature of the treatments, an improvement in blood circulation from the massaging movements of reflexology or because of the endocrine system (especially the pancreas) being activated through pressure points is still to be discovered. But there is certainly no harm in having reflexology as part of your diabetes programme. Think of it as putting your feet up on the diabetic table, made up of the right medication, a healthy diet and regular exercise.
Try out this simple self-reflexology at home:
Press on each of these glands of the endocrine system (pictured below) with the base of a ball point pen for a few minutes at least once a week.
Ask the expert: Andy Blecher, podiatrist
“In my opinion, having time out to put your feet up and have them massaged can be good for your overall wellbeing – and if there’s some evidence that it helps with circulation and peripheral neuropathy in diabetics then patients should give it a try.”
Sweet Life editor and Type 1 diabetic Bridget McNulty shares her pregnancy story – and what she wishes she’d known before she fell pregnant.
How long have you been diabetic?
I was diagnosed in October 2007… It was a very dramatic diagnosis: I was admitted to ICU for five days and was apparently only three days away from a diabetic coma because my blood sugar was so high.
Did you have to prepare to fall pregnant?
I told my endocrinologist ahead of time that my husband Mark and I were thinking of having a baby, and he gave me the go-ahead because my blood sugar was already well-controlled: my HbA1c results were 7.0 and below for the year before I fell pregnant. I also mentally prepared for the pregnancy, because I knew it would require a lot of discipline and that my diabetes would become even more of a full-time job than it already was!
How did having diabetes affect your pregnancy?
I had to be in extremely tight control throughout – HbA1c results of 6 and below (which I didn’t think was possible before I fell pregnant!) and blood glucose results of 7.8mmol/l or below an hour after eating… Where possible. I also had to test even more frequently than usual (up to 8 times a day). I had HbA1c tests every month and saw my endocrinologist every month, and I couldn’t indulge in pregnancy cravings like eating a whole tub of ice-cream! I had to be very strict with my diet. But it’s amazing how much easier it is to do when your motivation is the health of your baby.
How was the birth experience?
As smooth as I could have hoped for. I chose to have an elective C-section: it was either that or an induction, as all babies born to diabetic moms have to be born at 38 weeks. In the week before the birth my blood pressure started creeping up, and I was retaining a lot of water. Because diabetics are at greater risk of pre-eclampsia, my gynecologist decided to bring the birth forward two days, from the Monday to the Saturday. It was hugely exciting, and hugely nerve-wracking. Arthur, my baby boy, was born totally healthy and weighed in at a (very) healthy 4.5kg. We fell in love with him instantly.
What was it like having a young baby, with diabetes?
It was a real challenge in the early days. Breastfeeding plays havoc with blood sugar control, and causes really persistent lows. Sleep deprivation is tough to deal with, and it’s so overwhelming having a new baby and trying to learn how to be a parent that my diabetes kind of took a back seat for a while. I remembered to inject and test, but that was about it.
What do you think the biggest challenge of a diabetic pregnancy is?
Although 9 months doesn’t seem like that long at first, it feels like a really long time to be non-stop super-disciplined.
What advice would you offer to diabetics who are struggling?
You will feel so much better if you get your blood sugar under control. It is so worth it in terms of health and energy and general happiness to do what it takes to get good control. I know how hard it can be, but the reward is a healthy, happy life with diabetes – and that’s about as good as it gets.
What makes your life sweet?
My two sweet children, my wonderful husband, my awesome family and friends and the sweet life I’m living!
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.