Trying to manage diabetes is hard because if you don’t, there are consequences you’ll have to deal with later in life.  

– Bryan Adams, Canadian guitarist

Yesterday was World Diabetes Day (WDB). But how many of us were aware of this?

In fact, we can safely say that even those who knew the existence of this important day which became an official United Nations Day in 2006 didn’t give two hoots about it.

WDB is marked every year on November 14, the birthday of Sir Frederick Banting, a Canadian medical scientist who co-discovered insulin and its therapeutic potential together with fellow colleague Charles Best in 1922. Now, how many of you knew that?

It is shocking to know that one in two patients in the country were not aware of their diabetic condition until they visited a doctor for blood sugar screening.

Quoting a Ministry of Health survey last year, Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said nearly four million adults aged 18 and above were diabetic as of last year, against 3.5 million in 2015.

The prevalence rate of diabetes in adults has increased in Malaysia from 13.4 percent in 2015 to 18.3 percent in 2019.

With Malaysians adopting a couldn’t-care-less attitude, binging on rich foods and living an unhealthy lifestyle as if there’s no tomorrow, expect the rate of diabetes to go up.

According to an independent study conducted some years ago, 50 percent of people diagnosed with diabetes are asymptotic, meaning they don’t have any symptoms. If we solely rely on symptoms for detection and prevention, we will miss a large group of 50 percent of people who already suffer from the disease.

It’s about time Malaysians took heed of Dr Noor Hisham’s advice to be wary of what goes into their stomach.

Reduce carbohydrate and sugar intakes. It is indisputable that a high carbohydrate intake significantly raises blood sugar levels and makes it more difficult to control elevated sugars with traditional pharmaceuticals.

Yet instead of coming up with suitable commercial dietary substitutes, agricultural lobbies and nutritional pundits continue to tout traditional high carbohydrate staples.

Diabetes fears are prompting Indonesians to quit ‘rice addiction’. The population once ate rice with every meal, but its link to the disease has convinced the people to join a growing movement to quit the staple food. 

The disease not only has a negative impact on quality of life; it also increases the economic burden of patients and their families, not to mention the high health care costs and the impact on national productivity.

I have to mention this too — diabetics can be a nuisance (excuse me for seeming harsh) to their colleagues when they frequently go on sick leave. I know because I was faced with this ‘sick leave issue’ at my previous workplaces. There is nothing much the employers can do except to comply with the existing labour regulations.

One or two had to be medically boarded out.

The quality of life — sex life in particular — of a diabetic is compromised, as many of you are well aware of.  A common issue associated with diabetes is a decrease in libido, or loss of a sex drive. This can be frustrating if someone had an active and satisfying sex life before being diagnosed with diabetes.

So, if you value your sex drive, change your lifestyle before it’s too late — you might just wake up one fine day to find your spouse missing.

I once advised a relative (in his thirties and diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes) that if he valued his life, he should reduce his sugar intake, go slow on his alcohol consumption and stop smoking altogether.

“So, what, die, die, loh! Everyone has to go one day,” he replied.

My immediate response: “Hey bugger, you won’t die first. Your little fella will go first, lah. Catch the drift?”

He knew what I was getting at. He is still around but his life is a living death, with his ‘little brother’ completely useless. Fortunately, his spouse didn’t take off. 

Among the major ethnic groups in the country, Indians apparently have the highest prevalence of diabetes (24.9 percent in 2011), followed by Malays (16.9 percent), and Chinese (13.8 percent).

Diabetes in pregnancy is also highest among Indians (14.39 percent), followed by Malays (11.37 percent) and Chinese (10.4 percent), with the majority between 31 and 40 years of age (48.3 percent).

Perhaps the penchant for anything sugary is the cause of the high incidence of the disease among Indians.

In fact, India is home to 77 million diabetics, second highest in the world after China which has over 116 million diabetics. The rapid changes in their dietary patterns, physical inactivity, and increased body weight are some of the primary reasons for the increased prevalence.

Complications associated with diabetes include heart disease, heart attack, and stroke; retinopathy and vision loss; depression; dementia; foot damage such as infections and sores that don’t heal; hearing loss, and skin conditions such as bacterial and fungal infections.

Let’s heed the advice of our health authorities — fight sugar cravings and start leading a healthy lifestyle. Don’t be a burden to others.