By Francis Ewherido
Segun (surname withheld) is an ardent follower of this column. Touched by the article of January 13 titled: “What will kill you is before you,” he decided to share his recent health challenges: It is as if you had me in mind when you were writing your column. Since age 32, I have been on blood pressure medication, so I do not need any reminders to be conscious of my BP. But my family has no issues with diabetes, so blood sugar level is something I never paid attention to, at least not until recently.
One Saturday in November last year, I went for a high society wedding where champagne flowed freely. I took a reasonable quantity. Shortly after I got home, I became very feverish; I treated malaria over the weekend to no avail. By the next Tuesday, I went to see my doctor. When the results of the tests came out, I had malaria alright, but the sugar level in my blood was 179! The normal sugar level, according to my doctor, is below 100 when you wake up in the morning and not more than 140 at all times. Anything below 70 is also not good. Another test that was conducted showed it has been the pattern for the past three months or more.
Then I understood the dizziness, uneasy feelings and occasional blurred vision I had been experiencing for some time. I went into depression immediately. Even when the doctor was consoling me that diabetes is not a death sentence and can easily be managed, I had gone deaf to his counsel. All the memories of people with sores that refused to heal; those whose limbs were amputated and those who died because they rejected amputation came flooding back.
I was put on diabetes medication (Gremax, Mepiryl, Alphatic, etc), but my spirit rejected them. When I started taking them, sometimes my sugar level will drop below 70, I will take a bottle of coke to bring it up. Most times I felt dizzy and disoriented. I stopped driving long distances. One of the drugs, Mepiryl, which I took 30 minutes before breakfast always left me disorientated. My productivity level dropped. I was seeing my doctor everyday for review. I also saw a dietician to guide me in my transition to a new diet. But I also listened to my body, as you rightly observed in your column.
Once the diagnosis came out, I alerted all my siblings so that they too will become more conscious of their sugar level and not take it for granted like I did. Since a problem shared is half solved, they started helping out with information and remedies. One of them, Femi, helped me to get the seed of a local plant, called abere in Yoruba (sorry I do not know what it is called in English), which they said brings down blood sugar levels effectively. The seed is hard so I break it into pieces and put in a cup of water and leave it for at least five hours before drinking. This seed has not only brought down my sugar under 100 when I wake up (it only goes beyond 100 when I eat certain meals or late the night before) and under 140 at all times, but I now feel very normal again. For now, I am off all conventional pre-diabetes and diabetes drugs.
I was already on a strict diet before this development, but I have made further adjustments. The quantity of food I take has reduced. I now take mainly unripe plantain, plantain flour (amala), rice for people with diabetes and plenty of vegetables. No more cornflakes, sugar, garri, full cream milk and oh, I miss my favourite meal, ewa and dodo (beans and fried plantain) sorely. The last time I ate fried plantain for dinner, my blood sugar went way beyond the 140 limit. Beans meal is good for people with diabetic tendencies, but I cannot take it without dodo. I also miss my other favourites like akara and bread, moi moi and “soaked garri,” but what can I do? Only the living eats. I have also let go of my daily Coffee with cream and honey; I now take coffee with a little portion of skimmed milk, but no more honey.
It is not only soft drinks and malt drinks that have sugar; red wine, champagne, beer, brandy, whiskey and cognac also do, so I have obediently reduced my intake of red wine and champagne to an occasional glass and at ceremonies. But I still take plenty of water which is good.
As you also rightly observed in your article, the “saying that you can never be wrong with fruits” is not true. In my personal review, my huge consumption of fruits like banana, pineapple and watermelon contributed to my condition, because sometimes, I took them in large quantity instead of real meals. For now, I am off all “sweet” fruits like bananas, oranges, pineapple, etc., till further notice, even though the dietician said I could take a little of them. Garden eggs are what I snack on now.
I now take my health seriously the way a man of almost 50 years should. I check my blood sugar, BP and pulse at least once a day and record them to know the trend over time. I exercise more regularly now, albeit walking. I have noticed some trends over the last three months. The exercise is good both for my blood sugar and blood pressure. Eating late at night increases my blood sugar level beyond 100 the next morning; fried meals also increase my blood sugar. Strict discipline is important.
It is still early days though and too early to jump to conclusions, but I feel very normal. I now know that what and when we eat are even more important than medication. For now, the abere seed is holding forth well. But the challenges of traditional African medicine are also there. For instance, what are the side effects? I do not know and feel none for now. What about the dosage and frequency? For me, these depend on my sugar level. I also just heard that some people actually chew the seed, a very bitter and “bruising” exercise, but what sacrifices will one not make to have good health?