What is Diabetes?

In the normal digestive process, when we eat food it travels to the stomach.  Food is made up of three basic nutrients:  carbohydrates, proteins and fats.  During digestion, food containing carbohydrates are broken down into sugar ("S" in illustration) which is also known as glucose.  This sugar travels from the stomach through the bloodstream to the body’s muscle and fat cells to give them energy.  The sugar cannot enter these cells though without the help of a hormone called insulin ("I" in illustration) that is made by the pancreas.  Insulin acts like a key that unlocks the doors of the muscle and fat cells and allows sugar to enter them to provide energy.  In this way the body can regulate the amount of sugar in the bloodstream and maintain a normal blood sugar level. 

In diabetes, there is either not enough insulin being made by the pancreas or the insulin does not work well and this results in high level of blood sugar.


Type 1 diabetes occurs when there is NO insulin being made by the pancreas anymore.  The beta-cells on the pancreas are destroyed which leads to absolute insulin deficiency.




  • Constant thirst

  • Passing urine frequently

  • Weight loss



  • Self-Allergy:  This is when a person’s body develops an allergy against one of it’s own parts.  In the case of type 1 diabetes, the allergy is against the beta-cells in the pancreas where insulin is made.  These cells become damaged and as a result do not make anymore insulin.

  • Idiopathic:  Of unknown origin, arises spontaneously from an unknown cause. 



As there is NO Insulin made by the cells of the pancreas anymore, it is necessary to now inject the insulin.  There are different kinds of injections that are given at different times of the day as prescribed by your doctor.  Refer to our link on medication for more information about insulin injection use.


​In type 2 diabetes there is either a progressive loss of insulin secretion from the pancreas or insulin resistance (insulin does not work very well) or a combination of both of these.



  • Frequent drinking of liquids

  • Frequent urination

  • Infections

  • Wounds and sores that heal slowly

  • Low energy levels

  • Many people do not experience any symptoms, but are diagnosed from a high blood sugar test that is measured on a routine health examination.


It is partially inherited - if you have a family history of type 2 diabetes you have a greater risk of being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.  It is often called a “disease of lifestyle” because it is linked with being overweight, having an unhealthy diet and not exercising.



  • Lifestyle changes are very important!  Eating food with fewer calories, carbohydrates and fat.  Getting 30minutes of exercise 5 times a week.  Losing weight if you are overweight.

  • Medication taken by mouth if blood sugar and HbA1C levels return to near normal.  In some cases insulin through an injection may also be necessary.


Gestational Diabetes is a temporary condition diagnosed in pregnancy.  It is defined as glucose intolerance that is first recognized during pregnancy (second or third trimester) and that is not clearly either type 1 or type 2 diabetes and resolves post-delivery of baby.



Risk Factors

  • Repeated glucose in the urine

  • Gestational Diabetes with previous pregnancies

  • Family history (in a first-degree relative) of diabetes

  • History of stillbirths of unknown origin

  • History of high-birth weight infant >4,5kg

  • Obesity (body mass index >30kg/m2)

  • History of polycystic ovarian syndrome

  • History of unexpected perinatal death



-  Lifestyle changes that include weight-loss, regular exercise and dietary adjustments that include small-to-moderate portions of low glycaemic-index carbohydrates.

-  Pills taken by mouth or in some cases insulin given by injection might be necessary for the duration of the pregnancy.

-  If blood glucose levels return to normal after delivery, 6weeks later the mother should go for a follow-up test to ensure blood glucose levels remain normal and then yearly thereafter also be screened for diabetes.