When you think of factors contributing to the death toll in South Africa you may think of things like road accidents and murder. But there is a silent killer lurking in our midst; a killer so subtle that you may not even expect it or take it seriously. The silent killer is diabetes.

Over three million people in South Africa (6% of the population) suffer from diabetes. According to the 2016 report on mortality and causes of death in South Africa by Stats SA, diabetes is the second most common cause of death in the country.

In addition to this, five million people are estimated to have pre-diabetes. Pre-diabetes is when blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be considered diabetes. Most cases of pre-diabetes are undiagnosed, which means you could have pre-diabetes right now, without even realising it.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease that occurs when the amount of glucose or blood sugar gets too high. There are two types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is when the pancreas produces little or no insulin. Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that moves sugar from your blood into your cells to be used for energy. If there is no insulin, then your body will have trouble converting sugar into energy. Type 2 diabetes refers to the way the body processes blood sugar. Here the body is resistant to insulin and sugar ends up building up in your blood.

Both types have equally negative consequences for your body. Diabetes can affect your heart, brain, kidneys, nerves and eyes, and can double your risk of heart attacks and strokes. If left untreated it can even result in you losing a limb.

What are the early symptoms of diabetes?

If you can catch the disease in the early stages, you stand a better chance of managing it in the future. Some of the most common symptoms include:

• Increased thirst and frequent urination.
• Increased hunger.
• Fatigue (constantly tired).
• Blurred vision.
• Numbness or tingling in the feet or hands.
• Unexplained weight loss or gain.
• Sores that do not heal easily.

These symptoms can develop slowly over time and this is what makes the disease so dangerous. Some people don’t even realise that it’s happening to them because the symptoms are so mild and may be confused with something else.

How can you prevent diabetes?

There is no cure for diabetes, although it can go into remission. What this means is that once you have it you will have to manage it for the rest of your life. The best strategy is to try to prevent it before it becomes a problem. These are a few ways to prevent the disease from affecting you:

• Cut out sugar and refined carbs (fizzy drinks/soda, junk food, chips) from your diet.
• Exercise daily.
• Drink more water and fewer sugar-filled drinks like juice and soft drinks.
• Quit smoking – quitting smoking has been shown to reduce the risk over time.
• Follow a low-carb diet to help keep blood sugar and insulin levels under control.
• Eat foods rich in fibre such as beetroot, broccoli and kidney beans.
• Eat foods high in vitamin D such as fish, beef and cheese.

What can you do if you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes?

If you’ve already been diagnosed with diabetes, there are ways to limit the symptoms. Below are a few ways in which you can manage the disease:

• Start by eating healthier meals, nutrient-rich foods (vegetables, apples, bananas, lentils, seeds and nuts) and foods that are rich in fibre.
• Make it a habit to exercise daily.
• Be sure to take your medication when needed.
• Another helpful tool is to have a blood sugar testing kit at home. You will receive the results within seconds and this will give you an indication of whether your blood sugar level is normal or not.

“The good news is that with diabetes, 90% is up to the patient,” says Yvonne Thigpen, the diabetes program coordinator at Mount Clemens Regional Medical Center in Michigan. “The bad news is that 90% of diabetes management is up to them.”

Diabetes does not have to be a death sentence, but whether you live or die is ultimately in your hands. Diabetes needs to be managed with smart lifestyle choices. Eating well, exercising and reducing stress are all factors that contribute to you living a healthy, happy life. Don’t be another statistic – make a healthy change in your life today.


Tell us: in what way can you improve your lifestyle to make it healthy?