Diabetes – It Ain’t So Sweet After All

Let’s face it, Malaysians! We are THE WORST when it comes to managing our own health, particularly when it comes to our sugar intake. Basically, almost everything that we eat and drink on a daily basis (other than plain water) are just laden with sugar. 

Having said that, I, of all people, should cut down a lot of sugar since my family on my dad’s side has a long history of diabetes. Trust me, if you go to anybody’s house, everything has to be ‘cukup manis’ (sweet enough) or ‘cukup rasa’ (well-flavoured), or else, you are deemed not a good cook. 

A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips!

I look back at my old eating habits and I should probably bury my head underground like an ostrich. Whatever I have filled into my food and drinks probably can give a sugar boost to one whole nation in Africa! I only started eating slightly healthier when I was a broadcast journalist, mainly because I need to keep my figure. Yes, sometimes I had to appear on screen. I got a little better when I was a PR at a telco. That was the time when I totally found myself lost in the gym and not leaving until they made an announcement to clean up and return the towels. I might’ve let myself go from time to time, but I still managed to take care of my health. 

But that was before COVID-19 struck us! If anything, with the pandemic still threatening us and a lot of us are under the Movement Control Order (MCO), how many of us actually care about our health and sugar intake?

Although I’m not quite diabetic yet, I think this article shared by Prof. Dr. Amir Khir, Consultant Endocrinologist at Gleneagles Hospital Penang might be useful to others who have been diagnosed with diabetes. Just to note, Prof. Dr. Amir Khir is also a Foundation Professor of Medicine at Penang Medical College. 

Prof. Dr. Amir Khir is concerned about the increasing number of diabetes in Malaysia!

Here are some interesting trivia about diabetes in Malaysia!

  • By 2025, about 7 million Malaysian adults both diagnosed and undiagnosed are estimated to have diabetes.

That’s like 4 years from now and there’s a high possibility, I might be one of them. 

  • Diabetes is in fact a lifestyle disease. Currently, about 3.9 million Malaysian adults over the age of 18 have been diagnosed with diabetes.

So, imagine the estimated undiagnosed 3.1 million adults who may not even know that they are developing diabetes as we speak. 

  • The prevalence rate of diabetics aged 18 years and above has increased from 13.4% (2015) to 18.3% in 2019.

This number was shared in the latest National Health and Morbidity Survey. So, with it being 2021, I’m assuming we are mathematically at 21 to 22%. 

The more we achieve, the less healthier we become.

Here are some common questions you may have about diabetes!

What are the symptoms of diabetes?

There are 2 types of diabetes mellitus (DM). 

About Type 1

  • Less common in Malaysia (less than 5%)
  • More severe symptoms including weight loss, excessive thirst and frequent passing of urine

About Type 2

  • More common in Malaysia
  • In early stages, you may not notice any symptoms
  • As the disease progresses, you will experience excessive thirst and frequent passing of the urine
  • In a lot of cases, Type 2 diabetics experience complications such as heart attack or stroke, nerve and kidney damages, eye complications, leg ulcer, infections and so on. 
  • There is an increased tendency to fungal infections which may present as pruritus vulvae. Yes, ladies, it’s exactly what you think it is!. So, this is a good warning for YOU!
The light blue circle is a common logo for diabetes.

How do we diagnose diabetes?

Easy – we measure our blood glucose!

Generally the doctor will ask you to fast overnight or about 8 hours before taking your blood. Anything above 7.0 mmol/L is diabetes. If your sugar is between 5.7 to 6.9 mmol/L, then you’re on your way to becoming diabetic too. 

If you choose not to fast, then, we are looking at 11.1 mmol/L as a general rule. 

Apparently, this needs to be done annually.

What are our chances of diabetes?

  • Overweight – yikes, that’s me! Especially when you see increased abdominal girth. Yes, that means you have a big belly.  Calculate your BMI HERE.
  • Sedentary lifestyle – WFH? Not exercising? Mmmm, you might want to get checked soon. 
  • Family history – need I say more? So, if one of your parents is diabetic, you have an increased risk of between 20 and 30%. If both parents are at risk, then your number jumps to 50%. So in my case, with extended family members who are also diabetic, I’m probably a 100% sure deal if I don’t cut my sugar from now on. 
  • Pregnant – well, if you have a previous history of gestational diabetes mellitus after 24 weeks, you have a higher risk of Type 2. 
  • Age – this is when we say, ‘Age is not just a number’. It is a good indicator that your body is going through different physical changes and it may lead to more health issues when not managed early. 
I’m too embarrassed to pinch my own tummy!

How does diabetes cause nerve damage?

Chronic high blood glucose causes the accumulation of substances such as sorbitol in the nerves which will lead to metabolic dysfunction of the nerves. With early prevention, this can be reversed. 

In the event of prolonged bad glucose control, the nerves may damage due to abnormal blood vessels supplying the nerves. Nerves that are damaged by ischemia (inadequate blood suppy) are largely irreversible. 

It’s COVID-19 season now! What if you are diabetic?

Sadly, yes, individuals with obesity and diabetes are at higher risk to contract COVID-19. 

To make things worse, diabetics will suffer more severe complications too. 

Your COVID-19 clinical staging may advance if you have underlying issues such as diabetes.

So, what can you do?

First, schedule your next visit to see your physician and get some assessment including a sugar check. This needs to be done annually. 

Secondly, change your lifestyle. Move more, do more and try as much as you can to control your body weight to reduce your risk of diabetes. 

Finally, if you are concerned about COVID-19, speak to your doctor about COVID-19 vaccination. By right, you should be receiving your vaccination now as we are under Phase Two of the National Immunisation Programme. 

A change in lifestyle helps A slow progress is still a progress, remember that!

 Are there any treatments available?

Naturally, there are options! But the first thing the doctor will advise you is to change your lifestyle. You will need to cut your calories and carbs to reduce weight. You will need to exercise regularly to burn excess fat in the body. The visceral fat (the one surrounding your organs) is a bit tricky to shed, though. This combination will improve your insulin resistance rate. 

In more chronic cases, your doctors will prescribe you some medicines. Remember, speak to a specialist on this. Different people require different sets of treatment. For example, if you have other underlying diseases such as heart disease or high blood pressure, you may need a different combination to suit your health needs. 

So, now you know, diabetes ain’t that sweet after all! 


Paris Ashiqin

You might depend on this for the rest of your life…


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