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Type 2 Diabetes In South Africa

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, chronic diseases such as diabetes have dropped down our list of priorities, and many of us have neglected our regular GP and clinic check-ups. Since diabetes is such a vast topic to discuss. This month I’ve decided to focus on type 2 diabetes, which usually develops the majority of the time due to our poor lifestyle choices.


Roughly 13% of South Africans have type 2 diabetes. This number rises to 26% depending on the age bracket we look at. Carbohydrate-laden fast and sugary foods make up most of our diet these days. This, coupled with physical inactivity, contributes to South Africa’s obesity epidemic, which subsequently accounts for 87% of all type 2 diabetics. So diabetes is a MAJOR public health problem in our country, and the only way to fix it is to be aware of preventative methods, test regularly, and be mindful of the medical and lifestyle management options available.

What is diabetes?

As explained by the CDC, diabetes is a chronic (long-lasting) health condition that affects how your body turns food into energy.


Most of the food you eat is broken down into sugar (also called glucose) and released into your bloodstream. When your blood sugar goes up, it signals your pancreas to release insulin. Insulin acts like a key to let the blood sugar into your body’s cells for use as energy.


If you have diabetes, your body either doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t use the insulin it makes as well as it should. When there isn’t enough insulin or cells stop responding to insulin, too much blood sugar stays in your bloodstream.

Why is it important for me to manage my blood sugar levels?

Over time, that can cause serious health problems, such as heart disease, vision loss, kidney disease, or the dreaded heart attack or stroke. High sugar levels over a long period of time can actually damage the blood vessels that supply your heart, eyes, and kidneys, so controlling your blood glucose is very important.

What blood sugar levels should I be concerned about?

If you haven’t eaten or had anything to eat for a period of 8 hours or more (in other words, a fasting state), your blood glucose levels should be below 7 mmol/l.

If you’ve eaten a meal or had anything to drink besides water, we expect that level to be higher, but be no more than 11.1mmol/l (otherwise referred to as random glucose).

What medications are available to treat my diabetes?

There are a variety of medications used. Some push the sugar into the body cells so there aren’t high levels circulating around the body, others that cause insulin to be released into the bloodstream to assist in pushing this sugar into the body cells. We usually start patients on oral medications before progressing to treating them with insulin.

How do I know whether my diabetes is under control?

Every 3-6 months, we do a test called an HBA1C. This measures the amount of sugar attached to red blood cells present in your bloodstream and shows us whether there has been too much-circulating sugar or not. If this result is above 6%, then we need to take action to better control your sugar levels through diet and lifestyle advice. This is never a one-size-fits-all approach as we all have different cultural foods and different exercise abilities.


Bottom line – if we reduce the carbohydrate and we move more, our sugar is better controlled.