November is Diabetes Awareness Month and with more than 41 million South Africans expected to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes by 2045, according to the International Diabetes Federation, could you be next?
Over the past 20 years the number of people diagnosed with diabetes in South Africa has grown significantly, and expert say there are more than 16 million people in Africa suffering from the disease. Dietician and nutritional consultant Ria Catsicas says if the number of people with type 2 diabetes continues to grow, it’ll put our overburdened health system under more pressure. But GP Dr Campbell Murdoch has good news: “Unlike type 1, type 2 diabetes is a reversible condition for a lot of people. The challenge now is to empower as many people as possible.”
Here’s what you need to know…
This is an autoimmune disease where your body attacks and destroys insulin producing cells. “Your pancreas shuts down and you don’t produce any insulin, causing the glucose in your blood to rise,” says Natasha Marsland, diabetes expert and researcher. This is why symptoms like feeling thirsty and tired, needing to wee more often, unexplained weight loss and blurred vision are often more obvious. The cause of type 1 diabetes is not yet known, although family history can be a factor.
With the more common type 2 diabetes, your pancreas may still produce insulin, “but the amount may be reduced, or the insulin it produces doesn’t work properly, meaning symptoms develop gradually”, explains Natasha. “You might be more tired than normal, have central obesity, get up more at night to urinate, possibly have increased thirst, and need to sleep more after a big meal.”
This is where part of the pancreas is not producing enough insulin, sometimes caused by inflammation. Typical symptoms include vague abdominal pain, loose fatty stools and vitamin deficiencies.
Your type 2 questions answered
How will I be diagnosed?
You need to see a GP for a blood and urine test. “Type 2 diabetes is diagnosed by detecting persistently high blood levels of glucose and HbA1c, which reflects blood glucose levels over the past three months” says Dr Melanie Wynne-Jones. “If you have borderline results (pre-diabetes) you should be rechecked annually.”
How can I cut my risk?
Being at a healthy weight is key. Women should keep their waist circumference below 80cm. Reduce your intake of high-sugar starchy foods, especially sugary drinks, cakes, sweets and biscuits. Make sure you get moving – 30 minutes five times a week if you can, and 10 minutes of standing and stretching for every hour of sitting.
Who’s most likely to be affected?
Type 2 diabetes is strongly linked to age, genes, diet, obesity and lack of exercise; stress and lack of sleep. “People from South Asian and Afro-Caribbean ethnic groups are more likely to develop it,” says Dr Wynne-Jones.
Can natural cures work?
Before prescribing any medicines, your doctor may suggest you try natural approaches like improving your lifestyle. In this phase, your GP may be willing to support you taking Ayurvedic herbal medicines (including bitter melon, fenugreek, amla fruit and turmeric), which can improve insulin release in the pancreas, reduce insulin resistance and suppress cravings.
For more support and resources, visit diabetessa.org.za
By Features Writer, Andrea Cresswell