Health: Diabetes management: What you need to know

Simon Waweru, 8, from Dagoreti undergoes a diabetes test during a free screening in Nairobi
Simon Waweru, 8, from Dagoreti undergoes a diabetes test during a free screening in Nairobi

During a Diabetes Awareness Open Day at the Aga Khan University Hospital recently, Dr Nancy Kunyiha, a diabetologist endocrinologist at the hospital, explained that there are increasing rates of diabetes, and half the people living with diabetes are undiagnosed. Below are some of the concerns raised at the forum.

Can diabetes be cured, or reversed?

If you have diabetes, you have a lifelong task of managing the condition. Type 1 diabetes and some forms of diabetes are not curable. The important thing is to develop positive lifestyle changes. By eating healthier, being more physically active and losing weight, you can reduce your symptoms or even reverse some types of diabetes.

Early diagnosis of type 2 diabetes or impaired glucose can sometimes be managed with lifestyle changes alone. However, follow-up is essential with your health provider to ensure glucose levels remain within the expected range to prevent complications.

Do I need to be on medication?

This varies from person to person. Depending on your glucose levels, you may need to be on medication for the rest of your life. Some types of diabetes can be managed easily by strictly watching what you eat and monitoring your sugar levels, and others require oral medication and insulin or both. Individuals with type 1 diabetes are managed with insulin.

Is there a special diet for a person with diabetes?

Whether you are trying to prevent or control diabetes, your nutritional needs are virtually the same as everyone else, so no special foods are necessary. However, if you are at risk or have diabetes, you should stop refined sugars, sodas and high calorie drinks and snacks. Reduction in overall carbohydrates, especially if one has a sedentary lifestyle, can help with weight loss. Losing just five to ten per cent of your total weight can help lower your blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Does being obese predispose me to diabetes?

Being overweight, or obese, is the biggest risk factor for Type 2 diabetes.

However, the risk is higher if you tend to carry your weight around your abdomen as opposed to your hips and thighs. A lot of belly fat surrounds the abdominal organs and liver and is closely linked to insulin resistance.

Does having diabetes mean I cannot eat carbohydrates or sugary foods?

The type of carbohydrates you eat, as well as serving portions, is important. Focus on whole-grain carbohydrates instead since they are high in fiber and are digested slowly, keeping blood sugar levels more even. Sugary foods should be avoided as far as possible.

Is a diet high in protein good for a person with diabetes?

A diet for diabetes is more about your overall dietary pattern rather than obsessing over specific foods. A healthy diet is a balanced diet that includes protein, carbohydrates and fats, as our bodies need all three to function properly. You should seek a nutritionist review at diagnosis.

What are the risk factors for developing diabetes?

About 90 per cent of people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes. The risk increases with age, being overweight, having a sedentary lifestyle, a family history of diabetes or African or Asian origin. It also rises if you have had large babies over 4kg, or conditions like Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). You are more at risk if you are overweight, especially around the waistline.

Are there other complications associated with diabetes?

People with diabetes have an increased risk of developing a number of serious health complications, if diabetes is not managed well. These include cardiovascular disease,


kidney failure, and

lower limb amputation. Maintaining blood glucose levels, blood pressure and cholesterol at or close to normal can help delay and prevent diabetes complications.