One of the most challenging health problems of the 21st century is diabetes, a non-communicable disease. There are around 382 million people worldwide who live with the disease and each year over five million people die from the complications associated with diabetes yet an estimation of half of them are unaware they have it.

In our country the high prevalence of diabetes is rapidly growing and South Africa is seen as the number two country in Africa with a prevalence rate of 2.6 million. November is seen as Diabetes awareness month. Lilly South Africa has made it their mission to educate as many people as they can about this disease as World Diabetes Day is around the corner on the 14th.

Lilly has been running educational and support programmes very extensively throughout the country with the help of Project Hope in Zandspruit and the Donald Woods Foundation in the Eastern Cape by providing diabetes education and support to rural communities who lack it.

Diabetes kills more people than HIV Aids, however the awareness levels around it are nowhere as close as close as that of HIV Aids according to Dr Lebo Masunyane, clinical research physician in Endocrinology for Eli Lilly South Africa and sub-Saharan Africa.

”According to World Health Organisation (WHO) statistics at the end of 2012, non-communicable diseases were responsible for 68% of all deaths globally, up from 60% in 2000 and diabetes is one of the top four killer diseases, only lead by cardiovascular disease at no 1, cancers at no 2, diabetes at no 3 and chronic lung diseases at no 4. It’s these statistics that provide some serious food for thought about how serious the diabetes epidemic is. Economically and socially, diabetes is a massive global burden that needs urgent attention and action to avert a crisis. Most cases of type 2 diabetes are preventable by adopting healthier diets and lifestyles – however key to achieving this is education,” says Dr Masunyane.

So What Is Diabetes?

It is a very complex disorder of carbohydrate, fat and protein metabolism properties that stems from the resulting deficiency or complete lack of insulin secretion by the pancreas or seen as a resistance to insulin. If someone has diabetes it becomes harder for them to absorb glucose properly. The glucose remains circulating in their blood, which damages body tissue over time. All this damage leads to disabling and life-threatening health complications.

3 Types Of Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes causes people to produce very little or no insulin at all due to the result of a sudden onset destruction of insulin producing cells in the pancreas. Those that have Type 1 diabetes need forms of insulin therapy to survive as this disease develops suddenly. Symptoms of Type 1 diabetes include: abnormal thirst with a dry mouth, frequent urination, lack of energy and extreme tiredness, constant hunger, sudden weight loss, slow-healing wounds, recurrent infections and blurred vision.

Type 2 diabetes accounts for 90% of all diabetic cases. It is characterised by insulin resistance and relative insulin deficiencies. This type of diabetes is mostly associated, but not always, with obesity and can go unnoticed or undiagnosed for years. The major risk factors to look out for that can cause this type of diabetes are obesity, poor diet, physical inactivity, advancing age, family history and ethnicity.

Gestational diabetes is the third type and affects mothers and unborn children during pregnancy by increasing the risk to develop Type 2 diabetes later in life.

“All types of diabetes require close collaboration between those affected and their healthcare providers in order to prevent a range of costly, dangerous complications, which can cause damage to the eyes, kidneys, feet, brain and heart, and if left untreated, result in early death,” adds Dr Masunyane.

Diabetes does not stand alone as the main health risk. However people with diabetes are more at risk in developing a number of other disabling and life-threatening health problems. For example diabetes is linked to depression, erectile dysfunction, increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke, nerve damage, diabetic retinopathy – some form of eye disease that damages vision or provokes blindness, kidney failure and the overall risk of dying is at least doubled than those who do not have diabetes.

How To Reduce The Risk

“While some risk factors such as age, ethnicity and family history can’t be changed, many other risk factors can. Some people who are overweight won’t develop Type 2 diabetes in the absence of other risk factors, while someone of a healthy weight might. But managing your weight, eating healthy foods in the right quantities and being physically active are the best ways to reduce your risk. Small steps can make a big difference. If you are overweight, losing just five per cent of your body weight can greatly reduce your chance of developing Type 2 diabetes. The advice of a registered dietician and an exercise programme that you enjoy will be invaluable in achieving a healthier lifestyle that reduces your diabetes risk,” says Dr Masunyane.

– Keep track of what you eat and drink, like a food diary for example.
– Check portion sizes.
– Cut back on salt.
– Cut back on alcohol, or leave it entirely.
– Cut back on sugar.
– Reduce your fat intake.
– Eat five or more portions of fruit and veggies a day.
– Eatmore chicken and fish.
– Plan your meals.
– Eat healthy carbs especially low glycaemic idex options like brown rich and whole grains.

“A diagnosis of diabetes, in particular type 1, has a major impact on the individual and every member of the family, affecting even the activities of daily living that we so often take for granted. This is why Lilly’s work in the field of diabetes self-management education (DSME) is designed to increase the individual’s involvement in confidently gaining control of their diabetes, its treatment and its effect on their lives and that of their loved ones. DSME is a collaborative process through which people gain the knowledge and skills required to modify behaviour and successfully manage their diabetes. It is an interactive, on-going process involving the person with diabetes (or the caregiver/family) and a diabetes educator,” explains Dr Masunyane.