Diabetes – a ticking time bomb

Diabetes prevalence in South Africa has doubled in the last decade, with more than 4.2 million people now suffering from the condition – that’s one in nine adults – making it the leading cause of death in women, and the second largest cause for the entire population.

A pharmaceutical company with a focus on preventative care is urging the public and government ahead of World Diabetes Day (14 November) to do more to reverse this predictable yet preventable health crisis.

Nicole Jennings, spokesperson for Pharma Dynamics, says South Africa is the epicentre of type 2 diabetes on the continent, because of its high obesity rates.

“According to a study published in the Lancet, we are the most obese nation in sub-Saharan Africa and among the most obese nations in the world. Obesity increases our risk of many debilitating and deadly diseases, including heart disease and certain cancers. Obesity is also a primary driver of T2D, with 90% of patients categorised as either overweight or obese.

“While T2D is more common in older adults, the increase in the number of children with obesity has led to more diabetes cases in younger people, too.”

Other risk factors for T2D include age (over 45); having a close family relative with the disease; a diet high in fat, sugar and salt; high blood pressure; bad cholesterol; heart disease; drinking too much alcohol; smoking; and not exercising enough. 

Diabetes is a chronic condition that affects the way the body processes blood sugar or glucose. If your blood glucose is too high, it can seriously damage your body.

Some diabetes complications include:
• Heart attack or stroke 
• Blindness 
• Poor circulation in the feet, which could lead to amputation if left untreated
• Nerve damage 
• Kidney problems 
• Gum disease 
• Erectile dysfunction 

“What is alarming, is that about 50% of people who have diabetes now, don’t even know they have it. This means closer to 8 or 9 million people in SA are living with diabetes than the predicted 4.2 million.

“Furthermore, if one looks at pre-diabetic rates, which include those suffering from impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) and impaired fasting glucose (IFG), the figure could be even higher. An estimated 25% of people fall into the abnormal glucose grouping, which means an estimated 15 million South Africans will eventually develop diabetes. It’s a time bomb – and the clock is ticking,” warns Jennings.

Prevention and remission should be at the heart of SA’s long-term strategy for diabetes. The Department of Health already spends in the region of 12% of its entire budget on treating diabetes, which runs into billions.

Thankfully, a range of treatment options are available to treat T2D. These typically include:
Following a healthy diet. Your doctor or dietician could work out a diet plan for you by adjusting your calorie intake to get you to your healthy weight goal. Eating smaller portions and including more high-fibre foods like fruit, non-starchy vegetables and whole grains are key. Equally important is reducing your intake of refined grains, unhealthy fats and sugar.
• Exercise. Regular physical activity will help you to lose and/or maintain a healthy weight, plus it’ll help regulate blood sugar levels. Aim for at least 30-60 minutes of aerobic activity (walking, cycling, running) most days of the week, in conjunction with strength training. 
• Medication. Your doctor will decide whether it’s necessary for you to go on medication and/or insulin to help maintain healthy blood glucose levels.

Jennings says measuring blood glucose regularly is another important step in managing and preventing complications related to T2D. “As with most diseases, early detection is crucial to prevent complications. Too many people are ignoring the obvious warning signs and may be setting themselves up for serious and debilitating illness down the line. 

“Even if you don’t suspect you have diabetes, rather have it tested annually. This can be done at your GP or pharmacy clinic. At-home devices, called blood glucose meters, can also be used. A normal blood glucose range (while fasting) should be within the range of 3.9 to 5.5 mmol/L. Anything higher could be a sign of pre-diabetes or diabetes.

“If you’re pre-diabetic or have diabetes, arm yourself with the right information and get the care you need. Making lifestyle changes by cutting out unhealthy habits can yield significant health benefits and may even put your diabetes in remission.”

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