Everybody’s going to have some degree of health problems, and as we get older, I think we’ve gotta maintain.

– Tom Hanks, actor

I am feeling down since last Friday. I lost another friend, actually an old flame, to diabetes. She was only 50.

We haven’t met for several years but kept in touch via social media and when she WhatsApp-ed me for a lunch date three weeks ago I jumped at the opportunity. I was quite surprised at her physical appearance. She wasn’t what I expected. She used to be extremely beautiful, was always conscious of her looks and maintained a figure that was the envy of many a young woman.

When we met at the mamak she looked haggard, frail, run-down and extremely slim. We talked about old times. I remember her as a very jovial person who had a lot to talk about. But that day, I did most of the talking.

She started thanking me profusely for agreeing to the lunch meeting. She was also apologetic about having to take me away from my busy work schedule.

I felt something amiss and asked if everything was okay. It was then she broke down and said she had only months to live. She was suffering from Type 2 diabetes and going through a hard time with heart and kidney problems. She was at risk of heart attack and stroke.

I remember her weakness for chocolates, candies and anything sweet. And she loved to binge on foods high in carbs. I warned her to lay off these stuff even back then when we were dating as she had mild diabetes. Her family had a history of diabetes.

When her daughter broke news of her mum’s passing past midnight on Friday, it came as a shock to me. I didn’t expect God to take her away that soon. She had collapsed and doctors said she suffered a heart attack.

Now I am worried for my colleagues and friends who are suffering from this ‘silent killer’, as the disease is termed.

According to recent figures made available by the National Diabetes Institute, Malaysia has the highest rate of diabetes in Asia and one of the highest in the world, maybe second only to Saudi Arabia. Frightening, isn’t it?

There are between 2.5 million and 3.9 million adults suffering from the disease in Malaysia and what is of concern is that almost half of us do not know that we have diabetes.

Health Ministry figures show that one in five Malaysian adults, or 18.3 percent, could have diabetes.

This is worrying as most Malaysians who suffer from Type 2 diabetes do not show any symptoms until they develop a heart attack, kidney failure, go blind or have a stroke. This is why diabetes is called a ‘silent killer’

Another problem associated with diabetes is amputation. I had a colleague who had to undergo amputation of both legs many years ago. He had to resign from his job and he passed on two or three years later.

According to the Health Ministry, Negri Sembilan has the highest prevalence of diabetes, followed by Perlis and Pahang. I was not able to get hold of the figures for Sarawak. I won’t be surprised if we are among the ‘sweet tooth’ states.

I am wondering if we are making any effort to lead a healthy lifestyle. Or are Malaysians throwing caution to the wind when it comes to their health?

Like diabetes expert Dr Ashok Segar said recently, “Either there is still a lack of understanding on the seriousness of diabetes and the various health implications it can cause, or Malaysians are just taking a tidak apa attitude towards their health.

“Or could it be due to lack of knowledge on what we should eat and avoid?”

It got me to think, are we actually truly aware of what goes into our diet?

Dr Segar says if diabetes is prevalent in one’s family, chances are high that one may be at risk of getting it. He warns that obesity, unhealthy diet, smoking and genetics are some of the factors one has to be wary of as these will lead to diabetes.

The doctor was kind enough to download some simple and yet powerful tips from the Internet for diabetes sufferers to extend their lives:

• Manage and have good control of your diabetes and you will live longer;

• Life expectancy does decrease but there are ways to prevent it from happening;

• Rigorous management of the disease will ensure a longer and healthier life;

• Don’t give up when things get hard and tough; and

• Having good control of the disease means eating healthy, being active, avoiding smoking or drinking excessively, and getting enough sleep.

So my dear friends, how you want to live is in your own hands. Eat healthy to live a healthy life!