Diabetes is a lifelong condition that affects 463 million people worldwide and just under 13% of South Africans, with this number growing year on year, according to the International Diabetes Federation (IDF). South African Family Practice further iterates that diabetes is the second-highest cause of death in South Africa, with it being the highest cause of death among women. Two in three people in SA are at risk of prediabetes, according to the SA Demographic and Health Survey. With that in mind and with World Diabetes Day taking place on the 14th of November, we take a look at some of the top tips for managing diabetes.
“We are all affected by this growing epidemic,” explains Bridget McNulty, chairperson of the Diabetes Alliance. “Every person in South Africa knows someone or has a family member living with diabetes. Undiagnosed, untreated and uncontrolled diabetes is leading to serious complications… These impact people’s daily quality of life and burden the public and private healthcare sector. People with diabetes have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19 and many have died.”
Causes of type 2 diabetes
Although the logical thought is that the consumption of excess sugar must cause type 2 diabetes, it is much more complex. A high-sugar diet has been linked to an increased incidence of type 2 diabetes due to the connection between high sugar intake and obesity. The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition conducted a meta-analysis that suggested that there is a relationship between sugar-sweetened beverages and the incidence of type 2 diabetes. Therefore, the link between sugar consumption and type 2 diabetes can be both direct and indirect – sugar-sweetened drinks are linked directly as a cause, while high sugar consumption, which can cause obesity, is one of the main risk factors for type 2 diabetes, being linked indirectly. Other causes of type 2 diabetes include family history, a personal history of heart disease and even depression.
“Many believe that excess sugar consumption is the main cause of diabetes, however, the relationship between diabetes and sugar is still a very complicated one,” explains Christine Rice, registered private practicing dietician. Type 1 diabetes is a rare form of diabetes, which has been linked to family history and is therefore hereditary. Excess sugar consumption will not cause this type of diabetes but can worsen the symptoms. Type 2 diabetes, which is more common, can be brought on by lifestyle choices and diet.
“Changes to diet and lifestyle can help to manage type 2 diabetes, and even ward off the condition as well,” suggests Rice. “When making small changes to what we eat, how we live and include exercise into our daily routine, we can create a healthy environment for our bodies to thrive.”
5 common symptoms of diabetes
Do you know the 5 common symptoms of diabetes? Would you know what to look for in a child with Type 1 diabetes? For most parents (and many teachers), the answer is no. But the Sweet Life Diabetes Community is looking to change that this year, with the Digital Diabetes Awareness pack.
The concept is simple, equip South Africans with all the tools they need to raise awareness about diabetes during the month of November.
While Type 2 diabetes is most commonly seen in adults, Type 1 diabetes (which used to be called juvenile diabetes) is often diagnosed in children. Awareness of the 5 common symptoms can help children to be diagnosed earlier – and keep them from scary hospital emergencies.
The 5 common symptoms of diabetes are:
1. Extreme thirst
2. Needing to pee a lot, especially at night
3. Extreme hunger
5. Blurry vision
The Digital Diabetes Awareness pack includes:
- A video and voice note story: A Type 1 diabetes story by South Africa’s favourite storyteller, Gcina Mhlophe, in video and voice note format. (Watch it here!)
- A Teacher’s Guide to Diabetes: This helpful guide was developed by Youth With Diabetes, and shares all the information teachers need about diabetes.
- A community resource list: Here are South Africa’s diabetes support organisations and where to find out more about diabetes.
Taking Care of Diabetic Wounds
Additional symptoms of diabetes include fatigue, and longer than usual healing times for even the most minor cuts and bruises.
As a mom with a Type1 diabetic child, Delia Greeff wants other parents and diabetic patients to know that a correct diagnosis is crucial. “Diabetes is serious, but with the correct treatment, it is manageable.” According to Delia, one of the biggest challenges of having a diabetic child is wound care. “My little boy is happy and busy”, says Delia, “so it is my job to make sure I am always checking him for any scrapes or bruises, no matter how small. And as any parent knows, these are almost a daily occurrence.”
She says to address diabetic wounds as quickly as possible. Thoroughly clean the wound with clean water and mild soap. It is recommended that diabetic wounds are treated with a product such as medical-grade honey and dressed with a plaster or bandage. Even the most
superficial grazes need to be monitored for infection and must be cleaned and redressed frequently to support the healing process.
“Honey-based wound care like the Melcura HoneyGel and HoneyBalm are winners in our home as it’s so easy to apply, it accelerates the healing process and fights off infection. We take it wherever we go”, says Delia.
Melcura honey has some unique natural features that make it effective on diabetic wounds even more so than some normal wounds and it has been advocated for healing diabetic ulcers that contain biofilms. Due to its osmotic effect, Melcura honey draws moisture from within the wound bed into the product, softening slough and dead tissue, allowing this and any microbes to be rapidly cleaned away. This prepares the wound bed for new granulation tissue and promotes quicker healing.
Melcura honey products are easy and quick to apply. They are also locally manufactured making them affordable in our tough local socioeconomic environment, thus ensuring even the most rural of areas have access to easy-to-use advanced wound care.
Tips for managing type 2 diabetes
When diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and to help prevent it, it is important to look at your life and how you are living by seeing where you can make healthy changes:
- Healthy food choices include a regular schedule for meals and healthy snacks. Smaller portions help to keep hunger away. Food high in fibre are also great at keeping you full for longer. A well-planned meal plan can help with cravings and spikes and drops in blood sugar. Look for foods that are suitable for diabetics, such as Canderel Xylitol which is an all-natural plant-based sugar alternative that tastes, looks and crunches like sugar but offers fewer calories. It is a sucrose-free sugar replacer crafted from birch wood and is also found naturally in small amounts in some fruits and vegetables such as plums, strawberries and pumpkins. It is Keto friendly, kinder to your teeth and ideal for baking.
- Regular exercise is important for losing weight and for maintaining a healthy weight, as well as regulating blood sugar levels. Find an exercise activity that suits you and that you enjoy. This will make it easier to work out, and not feel as though it is a chore.
Weight loss helps to control blood sugar levels, cholesterol and blood pressure. As obesity is one of the causes of type 2 diabetes, keeping your weight in check is very important. Working with a dietitian can help with weight management and with creating a sustainable meal plan.
- Replace refined carbohydrates such as white bread, white flour and pastries with wholegrains foods and increase the intake of vegetables and foods high in dietary fibre.
“Making positive changes to your life when diagnosed with type 2 diabetes can help you to give your body a better chance of “handling” this condition. Canderel Xylitol is one such change, as every healthy change adds up to a healthier lifestyle” shares Rajnish Ohri, VP & MD Whole Earth Brands IMEA.
Diabetes & dental care
The dentist may not be the first medical professional you’d associate with diabetes, but there is a powerful link between diabetes and oral health. Proactive oral care can reduce your risk of developing diabetes and it’s essential for living well with diabetes.
There is an established two-way relationship between diabetes and oral health. Diabetes affects the body’s ability to process sugar and higher glucose levels in your saliva put you at higher risk of bleeding gums, cavities, gum disease and bad breath. In addition to the sugar issue, an estimated 42% of people with diabetes experience dry mouth, medically known as xerostomia, which is another risk factor for several dental health issues. People with diabetes can also tend to have a lower resistance to infection and heal more slowly, which can also further exacerbate gum problems.
At the same time, people with gum disease have been shown to have poorer blood sugar control and are at higher risk of various diabetes-related complications as a result. People with periodontitis, a more severe form of gum disease, are also more likely to become type 2 diabetic.
In support of November’s Diabetes Awareness Month, and World Diabetes Day on 14 November, Dirna Grobbelaar, oral hygiene advisor for Sunstar GUM, has put together an easy-to-follow daily oral care routine to help children and adults with diabetes protect their oral health and general well-being. Sunstar GUM has globally supported research on the relationship between diabetes and oral health for more than 30 years, inspired by the company’s founder, Kunio Kaneda, who lived with the condition.
“A meticulous daily oral care routine is the best way to prevent most oral health problems and is even more important if you have diabetes,” said Grobbelaar. “A healthy mouth can be as simple as 1, 2, 3.”
Check out the easy-to-follow daily oral care routine here.
Diabetes and Rooibos
Herbal infusions, such as Rooibos, are healthy beverage options for everyone, including diabetics. Living with diabetes means you need to be extra aware of everything you consume and how it can affect your blood sugar levels. Sugary beverages, such as fizzy drinks can cause a sharp rise in blood sugar, which is especially dangerous for diabetics, who are unable to metabolise and regulate their blood glucose levels effectively.
Prof Christo Muller, Chief Specialist Scientist at the SA Medical Research Council (SAMRC) says diabetics should avoid or limit such beverages as they can easily get more than a meal’s worth of sugar from one drink without even realising it.
“Consuming too many sweetened drinks also results in weight gain, which in turn, increases the likelihood of diabetes. Zero- or low-calorie drinks are typically recommended for diabetics to keep blood sugar in check. This makes Rooibos tea ideal since it’s calorie-free and its naturally sweet taste, means no sweeteners are necessary. In addition, Rooibos contains active compounds that can help control blood glucose, while lowering inflammation.
“A unique phenolic compound found only in the Rooibos plant species, called aspalathin, may also help to improve blood glucose levels. Green Rooibos, which is more abundant in aspalathin, is also effective at lowering raised blood glucose levels in animal studies. In these studies, aspalathin, improved insulin activity, the hormone that controls blood sugar levels, by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress, which are both causal factors that underlie the development of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
“Rooibos also protects the heart by suppressing vascular inflammation and atherosclerosis (plaque build-up inside artery walls) that occurs as a result of high blood sugar levels,” he explains. Plus, eating a diet rich in polyphenols (the most abundant antioxidants found in food) can help the body to metabolise sugar better.
In addition to drinking tea, following a diet that keeps blood glucose stable is equally important. Those suffering from type 2 diabetes, which is primarily as a result of poor dietary lifestyle choices, can in addition to medication, benefit greatly from proper diet and exercise.
Aside from drinking the tea, there are many ways to incorporate Rooibos into meals. Think of Rooibos as an all-natural flavouring and cooking ingredient. It’s a wonderful cooking liquid as it’s tasty and full of goodness. Rooibos is the perfect substitute for shop-bought stock, which is often very high in salt, artificial flavourings or preservatives and even sugar. The flavour of Rooibos goes well with so many other ingredients, ranging from tomatoes, ginger, chilli, garlic to herbs and spices, and can be used for a wide range of recipes. Add it as a liquid to soups, stews or even when oven-roasting chicken or veggies.
For more information on diabetes, symptoms and how to manage the disease, visit the Diabetes Alliance website here.