Tate & Lyle
Carst and Walker
J Brooks Spector

Sugar, the enemy, by a newly-diagnosed diabetic

After his newest adventures with medicine, the writer sometimes thinks he should be standing up in a room filled with other people with the same condition, as he builds up enough courage to confess: “Hi, my name is Brooks and I am a… diabetic.” Although there is an Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, even Overeaters Anonymous – there is no Diabetics Anonymous – but maybe there should be.

An extract from this article on the Daily Maverick by J Brooks Spector, American but SA resident journalist and commentator…

In my case, it should have been obvious to me that diabetes was coming on. But it was really easy to rationalise away almost any of the symptoms.

There was that constant thirst, those 3am visits down the hall. These started to kick in after the cold feet and hands, and growing need for a mid-afternoon nap. But it was really easy to rationalise all of this away. Circulation obviously gets worse with age, that’s why my hands were cold. Thirsty, well I must have eaten food with too much salt. That afternoon nap? I’m in my 60s, why not?

And even the cataract surgery in 2001 didn’t initially ring the tocsin for me, even though the impact of too much sugar in the blood is to harm nerve endings, such as the ones involved in sight. The eye surgeon had explained the median age for cataract surgery was 62 – and I was just six months ahead of that, so that seemed about right. All normal, sadly. But a fall in the night, a doctor’s visit to make sure there was no concussion and a set of worrisome blood readings finally made me sit up and pay attention – at least metaphorically.

And so now, every morning starts with a quick jab in the finger to extract some blood, put it on the test strip, get the reading and take several pills, one to help blood sugar be metabolised better and the other to stimulate whatever production of insulin is still capable in my pancreas – or, more specifically, those mysterious Isles of Langerhans, those clumps of cells inside the pancreas that produce the insulin hormone molecules that the body needs to regulate the absorption of that glucose.

And then there is the dietary change – out with white bread, no, out with almost every type of bread except those special low GI nutty breads that taste like coarse-ground mixed nuts. Lots and lots of salad, no potatoes, very modest amounts of sweet fruits, and fish, chicken, grilled, roasted or baked meats, gluten-free pasta, and only an occasional sip of wine or beer. And dessert? No, no desserts.

Now there are meals with smaller portions, but perhaps an extra mid-morning or mid-afternoon healthy snack to help even out that demon glucose level a bit more. But there will be no late-night browsing through the fridge to help sustain any late-night television watching. The cynic could say the diet generally tends to taste like sawdust, but maybe sawdust would have more flavour – if one added some soya sauce, sesame oil and chilies  anyway.

The larger social problem for places like America – and South Africa – is that the rate of diabetes cases is rising steadily. Here in South Africa, for example, depending on what sources one looks at, among adults over 20 there are at least a million cases already – but some authorities claim the rate of incidence is nearly four times that. The Diabetes Society says, for example: “Research shows that approximately 4-6 million people in SA have diabetes and that most of these people are unaware that they have the condition.”

Among some groups, according to a range of medical studies, the rate of occurrence is skyrocketing, as with adult urban Coloured populations in the Cape where, presumably because of dietary habits, among other reasons, the level of incidence has already hit over 30%. Other studies report a prevalence figure of 3.4% for the 24 million South Africans between the ages of 20 and 79, with an expected increase to about 4% by the year 2025.

The Diabetes Society of South Africa explains: “There is an explosion of diabetes worldwide and developing countries like South Africa are the worst hit. The World Health Organisation predicts that in South Africa, the numbers will triple in the next 15 years. Although all groups are affected, those most at risk are the black community who are undergoing rapid lifestyle and cultural changes, and people of Indian descent who have a gene pool that makes them unusually susceptible to diabetes.”….

Daily Maverick: Read the full article here

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