Diabetes is one of the most overlooked health issues in South Africa, being the leading cause of death in women. There are an estimated 3.85 million people in the 21 to 79 year age group that have diabetes.
According to the Centre of Diabetes and Endocrinology (CDE), the majority have type 2 diabetes, the most common type of diabetes in adults, which is usually associated with excess adiposity (body fat) particularly around the middle or ‘tummy’ area. This makes one resistant to the blood glucose regulating hormone insulin and, over time, production of the vital hormone insulin falls. Worryingly, at least 1 in 2 people with type 2 diabetes remain undiagnosed and at risk for life- and health-threatening cardiovascular and other complications.
Type 1 diabetes, is more frequently diagnosed in children and adolescents, but importantly it can occur at any age - it is usually an autoimmune condition that causes the body to attack the insulin-producing beta-cells of the pancreas with antibodies and destroy them.
In both these types of diabetes, insulin does not work as it should - your body can no longer use carbohydrates, fats and proteins in the food and blood glucose levels rise to blood vessel damaging and cell-toxic levels. This increases the risk of cardiovascular complications like heart attack and stroke, as well as problems with the small blood vessels (capillaries) in the eyes, heart, kidneys, sexual organs, nerves, and skin. This leads to dysfunction or even failure of these critical organs.
Hitting the restart button
Although this all sounds like bad news, and being diagnosed with diabetes can feel like the end of the world as you know it, diabetes can provide a wake-up call and a gateway to a healthier lifestyle and a longer life.
The CDE advises that changing to a more wholesome way of eating by drinking more water, and eating more fresh vegetables and fruits, high-fibre whole grains and legumes, fish, poultry and heart-healthy fats. Also eat less red, fatty and processed meat, processed foods, sugars and refined starches and salt. From a blood glucose perspective, the portion size of each meal and snack is critical. Talk to your registered dietitian to help make eating enjoyable and healthy for you.
Move more to become physically fitter. You can keep it simple by taking brisk walks, swimming or cycling, and limiting the amount you sit to no more than 30 minutes at a time. Joining a group or getting family and friends involved can keep you motivated to reach your goals.
Together with the wide number of medication options now available for diabetes and associated risks, you can stay healthy and prevent any diabetes-related complications.
Protect your financial future
A change in your health, be it for better or worse, always has a financial implication. Being financially stressed during this time is something that no one wants. Therefore, it is important to have a financial plan in place to protect you and your family should you be diagnosed with any long-term health issues. The diagnosis of diabetes can also prompt you to review your financial plan.
Having medical aid cover is the first step. Having life cover in place is also essential when it comes to creating a financial safety net for you and your loved ones. Insurers do cover people who have diabetes, but it is vital to read accompanying terms and conditions carefully to avoid missing anything that could affect the claim process, or your premiums.
Speak to your insurer about how you can reduce your insurance risk and pay lower premiums. This largely revolves around managing any chronic health conditions and being the healthiest version of you possible.
So achieving and sticking to a healthier lifestyle will have benefits for you in both the short and the long run. The various members of your diabetes team (doctor, nurse educator, dietitian, podiatrist, and pharmacist), and your insurer will be glad to assist you