A diabetes diagnosis is overwhelming enough, let alone thinking about the prospect of having to go onto insulin treatment.

However, it’s perfectly possible to lead a healthy, fulfilling and active life with the right healthcare, family support, medication and personal attitude.

This is according to Dr Ntsiki Molefe-Osman, diabetes medical advisor at Lilly South Africa.

She explains that diabetes comes in two types:

Type-1 diabetes

  • The body is unable to produce sufficient insulin of its own in order to maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
  • It usually begins in childhood or adolescence and is caused by a faulty autoimmune response that causes the body to destroy the pancreatic cells that produce insulin, which in turn leads to an insulin deficiency.
  • People with type-1 diabetes must take insulin, which is vital to staying healthy and achieving the most consistently normal sugar levels, and quality of life.
  • There’s no medical cure for type-1 diabetes, although researchers are working on preventing the disease as well as the destructive progression of the disease in people who are newly diagnosed.

Type-2 diabetes

  • Type-2 diabetes is far more common and, according to the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), there were 2,28 million diagnosed cases of diabetes in South Africa in 2015.
  • In the case of type-2 diabetes, insulin is produced, but the body’s cells do not respond to it correctly. Instead, the body becomes resistant to insulin.
  • It is most often, but not always, associated with obesity, poor diet, physical inactivity, advancing age, family history of diabetes, ethnicity and high blood glucose during pregnancy.
  • It can go undiagnosed for years.
  • Due to the progressive nature of the disease, most type-2 cases will eventually need insulin to be added to their treatment. However, many cases of type-2 diabetes can be prevented by making simple changes in our everyday lives and knowing the risks.

Insulin treatment is not the enemy – poor sugar control is

While people with type-2 diabetes may be able to control their condition with a combination of exercise, meal planning and diabetes tablets, at some point they may require insulin treatment.

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It is important to know that it is not a failure if you need insulin treatment, as type-2 diabetes is a progressive disease, so in most cases, all diabetics will eventually need insulin.

Good control of blood sugar levels is the ultimate goal, and effective insulin treatment will help prevent other serious issues like heart disease, stroke, nerve damage, organ damage, eye problems or in extreme cases, premature death. 

What is insulin?

Insulin is a hormone that’s made by the pancreas and its purpose is to help the body move glucose into cells for energy.

When your pancreas can’t produce enough insulin or fails to function properly, blood sugar (glucose) levels can rise – leading to diabetes.

If you are diagnosed with diabetes, you may need insulin treatment to help control your blood sugar level³.

Myths and facts about insulin treatment

  • Being on insulin will not disrupt your daily routine.
  • Insulin does not cause complications such as blindness. Along with other medication, it helps to reduce complications by controlling your blood sugar level.
  • Insulin is not an addictive drug
  • Starting insulin does not mean you are failing to take care of your diabetes. For many people with type-2 diabetes, the body gradually produces less and less of its own insulin. Eventually, oral medication may not be enough to keep blood sugar levels norms. Using insulin to keep a healthy level is the responsible thing to do for your own health.

Related: Study: children who sleep less have higher risk of diabetes

Recognise when your sugar levels drop

Everyone reacts differently to low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia), so it is important to recognise your own symptoms.

Some symptoms are shakiness, anxiety, rapid pulse, irritability, tingling fingers or lips, headache, sweating, blurred vision, hunger, dizziness and fatigue or weakness.

The ‘Rule of 15’

There are five important steps to treat low blood sugar:

  • Step 1. If your blood sugar is less than 70mg/dL take 15 grams of glucose or simple carbs
  • Step 2. Recheck your blood sugar after15 minutes, if possible.
  • Step 3. If you still feel the symptoms of low blood sugar, repeat step 1.
  • Step 4. Once you return to normal, eat a small snack if your next planned small meal or snack is more than an hour away.
  • Step 5. If you continue to experience signs of low blood sugar – contact your doctor or emergency health services immediately.

15 grams of carbs is equal to any of the following:

  • Four glucose tablets (follow package instructions).
  • One gel tube (follow package instructions).
  • Two tablespoons of raisins, or one tablespoon of honey or syrup.
  • Half a cup of juice or non-diet soda, or one cup of non-fat (1%) milk.
  • Three to five hardboiled sweets, jellybeans or gumdrops.

Take care

While some risk factors for diabetes, such as age, ethnicity and family history, can’t be changed, many other risk factors can be managed. This includes maintaining a healthy weight, eating healthy foods in the right quantity and exercising regularly.

  • Diet – According to Diabetes South Africa (DSA), there is no such thing as a ‘diabetic diet’, only a healthy way of eating, which is recommended for everyone. However, it’s a good idea to visit a registered dietitian who can help you work out a meal plan that is suitable for your lifestyle.
  • Weight – Eating healthily also helps you maintain a healthy weight, which is especially important in the control of type-2 diabetes.
  • Exercise – DSA recommend regular exercise as it helps the body lower blood glucose levels, promotes weight loss, reduces stress and enhances overall fitness.
  • Stress – Learning healthy ways to cope with daily stress can help people manage their blood glucose levels.

Related: The workout that wards off type-2 diabetes

“The best approach is to be methodical in your planning and to work out a daily programme that keeps you on track and becomes part of your routine,“ advises Dr Molefe-Osman. 

She says that you shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions of your healthcare provider or diabetes educator, as they are a valuable source of information and experience.

“The fact is that with proper management, you can overcome the challenges that turn your diabetic journey into a success story. Know the value of building a support system around you because diabetes requires healthcare providers, daily attention and commitment – and often involves your whole family.”



While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.