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The following information is to be used as a guide to and at the discretion of the end-user and should not replace a doctor’s opinion.


Diabetes is a chronic condition that occurs when the pancreas can no longer make enough insulin, or the body cannot effectively use insulin.

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that acts like a key to let glucose (sugar) from the food we eat pass from the bloodstream into the cells in the body to produce energy. The body breaks down all carbohydrate foods into sugar which is absorbed into the blood, and insulin helps this move into the cells (i.e. sugar is converted into energy in the muscle cells)

When the body cannot produce or use insulin effectively, this leads to high blood sugar levels which, when uncontrolled, are associated with damage to the body and failure of various organs and tissues. But when well controlled — through diet, exercise and medication — diabetics can avoid the most debilitating complications. One in every three adults (13 million) in South Africa has elevated blood sugar levels, putting them at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Diabetes is the country’s second deadliest disease and is also the leading cause of death among women in the country. It has claimed more lives than HIV, hypertension, and other forms of heart disease combined. It’s a leading cause of blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, stroke, and amputation of lower limbs


While often diagnosed in childhood or adolescence, type 1 diabetes can develop at any age. It occurs when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. People with type 1 diabetes require lifelong insulin therapy for survival


This is the most common type of diabetes, accounting for 90% of cases. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body becomes resistant to insulin or doesn’t produce enough insulin to maintain normal blood sugar levels. It is often associated with lifestyle factors such as obesity, sedentary lifestyle, and poor diet. While it can develop at any age, it is more common in adults, particularly those who are overweight or obese,


This type of diabetes develops during pregnancy when hormonal changes can lead to insulin resistance and usually resolves after childbirth. However, women who have had gestational diabetes are at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.


  • Type 1 diabetes: family history, genetics, and autoimmune factors.

  • Type 2 diabetes: obesity, physical inactivity, unhealthy diet (high in processed foods, sugar, and unhealthy fats), family history of diabetes, age (risk increases with age), and previous diabetes in pregnancy (gestational diabetes)


The symptoms of diabetes can vary depending on the type of diabetes and your blood sugar levels. Common symptoms of diabetes include increased thirst, frequent urination, extreme hunger, unexplained weight loss, fatigue, blurred vision, slow-healing wounds, and frequent infections.

In pregnant women, gestational diabetes may cause symptoms such as recurrent UTIs, increased thirst, frequent urination, fatigue, and blurred vision. However, gestational diabetes often does not produce noticeable symptoms and is usually diagnosed through routine screening during pregnancy.


There are several types of tests that can be conducted to screen for and diagnose diabetes. These tests can only be run by a medical professional who will decide on the right test for you. A finger prick blood test can be done at a clinic or pharmacy to give you a snapshot of how high your blood sugar level is. A formal diagnosis requires a fasting blood glucose test.

Managing your diabetes

Treatment for diabetes aims to keep blood sugar levels within a target range to prevent complications. Treatment may include lifestyle modifications (diet, exercise, weight management), oral medications, insulin therapy, and other injectable medications.

Continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) systems and insulin pumps are advanced tools that can help you monitor and manage your blood sugar levels more effectively.



Type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented, but type 2 diabetes can often be prevented or delayed through healthy lifestyle choices such as maintaining a balanced diet, engaging in regular physical activity, achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, and avoiding tobacco use.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa advise that a healthy diet is one of the best ways to control blood sugar and reduce the risk of developing complications:

  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet with small, regular meals, which will help to regulate your blood sugar levels.
  • Eat high fibre foods. You can increase your daily dietary fibre intake by choosing high fibre whole-grain options, eating at least 5 fruit and vegetables daily and including a wide variety of legumes such as beans, peas, lentils and soya.
  • Limit added sugars such as sweets, chocolates, sweetened soft drinks, fruit juices, flavoured water and milky drinks, especially if your blood triglycerides are high.
  • Cut down on sodium and salt. A high salt intake is linked to high blood pressure. Reduce your salt intake to no more than 5g (1 level teaspoon) of salt, from all sources, a day.
  • Cut down on unhealthy fats like saturated and trans fats which can raise blood cholesterol levels. These can be found in foods such as fatty and processed meats, chicken skin, butter, ghee, cream and hard cheeses, pies, pastries, biscuits, crackers, fast foods and deep-fried potato or slap chips.
  • Choose foods high in omega 3 fats which are good for your heart and can help to improve cholesterol levels. Try to include fish in your diet at least twice a week.
  • Drink alcohol carefully. Alcohol can affect blood sugar levels, so it is recommended that it is consumed with food to prevent hypoglycaemia. For those who choose to drink alcohol should do so in moderation. Moderation equates to no more than one drink a day for women and two for men.

Manage your food portions carefully. There are some simple ways to make sure you are eating the right portion size using your hand:

  • One portion of meat or chicken: the size and thickness of the palm of your hand

  • One portion of fish: your whole hand

  • One portion of starches like cooked rice, pasta, or potato, as well as starchy vegetables like butternut or peas: your closed fist

  • One portion of legumes like chickpeas, lentils or beans: your closed fist

  • One portion of fruit and non-starchy vegetables like carrots, broccoli, beetroot, cauliflower or eggplant: your cupped hand

  • One portion of cheese: the size and thickness of your thumb