How to prevent and control diabetes

Nicolette Dirk, finance writer,

According to Stats SA, the third highest cause of death in South Africa is diabetes. Approximately 6.5 million South Africans are currently living with some form of diabetes. With National Diabetes month coming to a close, how much do you know about preventing and controlling this chronic disease?

The types of diabetes

Dr. Dominique Stott, executive of medical standards and services at PPS, says there are two types of diabetes. Type 1 is when the body does not produce enough insulin while Type 2 is when the body cannot effectively use the insulin being produced. The latter is closely related to obesity, metabolic syndrome and lifestyle.

Dr Stott adds that diabetes Type 2 is far more prevalent than Type 1 in South Africa, as a result of the increase in obesity.

What is even more concerning is the fact that with the enormous growth in childhood obesity, Type 2 has become far more common in children sometimes in children as  young as 10 years old.

“Typical symptoms of Type 2 include gradual development of increasing thirst, blurring vision, unusual fatigue and more frequent urination. These symptoms last for many years before being diagnosed. This is why regular check-ups are so important. If symptoms are not detected early enough, damage can be caused to blood vessels of critical organs, leading to further complications,” said Dr Stott.


Diabetes can affect anyone

Celebs like Tom Hanks and Halle Berry have shown that living with Type 2 diabetes need not be a death sentence. While it is common knowledge that Halle Berry has been living with the disease for years, at age 57 Hanks announced earlier this year that he has been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.

South Africa’s own first lady Bongi Ngema-Zuma grew up with family members, including her mother, suffering from the disease. Her understanding of the effects of this disease, led to her establishing the Bongi Ngema-Zuma Foundation for diabetes prevention and care in August 2010.

“There is still a huge amount of work that needs to be done in Africa and even more so in South Africa. We also need to be aware that diabetes sufferers are more vulnerable to communicable diseases like TB, HIV and Aids which are also placing a profound burden on our society,” she says.

What is causing this epidemic?

Six out of ten South Africans are clinically overweight or obese and evidence has shown that obesity increases the risk of acquiring conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.

Erin Martin, biokineticist and diabetic educator, says cases of diabetes is increasing because the lifestyle of people across the world has become more sedentary.

“The prevalence of Type 2 diabetes is increasing and it is closely related to the increase in people’s weight caused by poor diet and lifestyle habits. We really need to face these facts and make more of an effort to stay healthy,” says Martin.

Dr. Stott says that while diabetes can develop in anyone, especially those with metabolic syndrome or simple obesity, those with a family history of any form of diabetes are at a far higher risk of developing the disease.

“Anyone who has a family history of diabetes or is obese must discuss the possibility of regular testing for diabetes. This is a simple blood test, which indicates if someone is diabetic or even in a pre-diabetic state. If an obese person is pre-diabetic it is possible for them to revert to normal if they maintain a normal weight,” says Dr. Stott.

How can you fight diabetes?

Martin says that exercise and healthy eating habits seem to take a backseat in our hectic modern lives, and this is where health ailments such as Type 2 diabetes start.

“But Type 2 diabetes can be kept under control and you can lead a healthy life in spite of it. Educating yourself about diabetes will teach you what’s good for your body and how to improve your quality of life. Some people are even able to give Type 2 diabetes the boot completely,” says Martin.

Dr. Stott says preventative measures, early detection and sound medical cover are essential in the battle against diabetes.

“The treatment of any form of diabetes requires lifelong medication, which must be taken regularly in order to prevent any long-term and expensive complications such as coronary artery disease, nerve damage, poor circulation, vision problems and kidney disease,” says Dr. Stott.

She adds that diagnosis of diabetes is a simple blood glucose test, which can be done by any doctor.

Regular follow-ups and medical checks are vital to ensure that if complications do develop, they can be addressed early enough to prevent more serious implications, resulting in hospitalisation.

Moneybags says:

Exercise regularly to reduce the onset of obesity as it often leads to diabetes.

If you have a family history of diabetes, have yourself checked regularly.

Stick to the proper eating plan for diabetic patients if you are diagnosed.