Elizabeth Gunther – Surfing the waves of diabetes

Elizabeth Gunther talks about living with Type 1 diabetes, her kombucha business, Tea of Life, and her love for surfing and her dogs.

Elizabeth Gunther (35) lives in Muizenberg, Cape Town with a house mate and her ‘two incredible dogs’.

Living her best life

Currently, my life consists of building my business, Tea of Life; walking my dogs; surfing; and managing my Type 1 diabetes. I am single and don’t want any children as I would not know where to find the time!

I do, however, spend a lot of time with my friends and family who are extremely supportive of my chronic illness. Though, it has been said that I was friendlier before having diabetes.

When I surf, I mostly go with a friend in case I experience a low episode. My housemate is also very empathetic and cares about whether I make the correct food choices.


At the age of 21, I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. It was about a year after I worked on a cruise line as a beauty therapist. Two years before that I was involved in a car accident. To this day, I am not sure why I got it. No one in my family has had diabetes.

Family feasting

We always lived very healthy lives as children. We ate fruit salad, nuts and lentil soup versus braai broodjies, lamb, and malva pudding.

Feasting for my family was getting fish and chips once every second month; Sunday drives for Marcel’s English Toffee Frozen Yoghurt; as well as my dad’s health rusks, banana clusters and incredible carrot cake with loads of pecan nuts!

I always had a weakness for sweet things but to find a packet of biscuits or a Cadbury’s slab in our house was as rare as winning the lotto.


Throughout a day, I use more or less 16 units of Apidra and 20 units of Tresiba at night. To test my glucose levels, I vary between Optium and Contour machines. I realise this might be slightly outdated. But, my endocrinologist does not suggest the insulin pump as I surf whenever I get the opportunity.

Kombucha lowers glucose levels

My passion for kombucha started about 10 years ago when I attended a kombucha workshop in Knysna. I instantly savoured the taste, not being aware of the extensive health benefits of this fermented tea.

Soon I discovered that kombucha lowered my blood glucose levels. So much so that I needed to inject less insulin. Fermented foods slow down the digestion of carbohydrates thus stabilising blood glucose levels.

I started feeling great within my body. It radiated my skin and gave me a natural energy boost that was fantastic at that stage. The words of Kris Carr, a wellness activist and cancer survivor, “Gut health is the key to overall health” started making sense to me after introducing the probiotic health beverage into my diet.

And now I run my own kombucha business, Tea of Life.

Feasting as a person living with diabetes

Feasting for me is drinking good Double Flat Whites at carefully selected coffee shops or making my own. I also enjoy dark chocolate and luckily those two things do not increase my glucose levels too much.

Cooking balanced meals with all five food groups as a single person is not that easy. When I visit my parents, and eat home-cooked meals, my glucose levels are way more balanced.

Most times no one would ever know I have diabetes, except an intimate partner. It definitely is hard for a partner of someone living with diabetes and at times frightening. Hence why I have two dogs. It is way less stressful!

I have been to many psychologists to help me cope with the ups and downs of this disease and it has helped as much as it can. I think most people living with diabetes are rebellious (in my experience of talking to many of them) and something about this disease is meant to change that.

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Des Davey – A change in medication has given me better health

Des Davey shares his story of how a change in medication, due to changing from private to public healthcare, has improved his management of his diabetes.

Des Davey (62) lives in JHB South, Gauteng. He is divorced and has three adult sons and one grandson.

Des was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes around 30 years ago. At that time, he was on a medical aid and was prescribed insulin and metformin. The doctors informed Des that his lifestyle had to change; he admits he was drinking alcohol most days.

He adds that it was hard to change eating habits as he couldn’t afford the healthier food that tends to be more expensive. Though, he did try to cut out sugary cold-drinks and changed his diet as much as he could.

In 2007, Des moved to Johannesburg from Pinetown and consulted a new doctor. He was prescribed Lantus and metformin. Since then he has managed his glucose levels but unfortunately not with the best results.

Changing to a public hospital

Last year around September, Des had to stop his medical aid due to financial reasons. This meant that Des wasn’t taking any medication for his diabetes. For three months, his blood glucose levels sky-rocketed to 20 and he suffered many headaches and became listless.

In December, he decided to go to a public clinic. His blood glucose and blood pressure were checked; his glucose level was sitting at 18. He was informed by the nurse that she can’t prescribe insulin so he would have to go to a public hospital. She did, however, assist him with blood pressure medication.

In January this year, Des went to a public hospital in the south of Johannesburg. “I knew I needed help and couldn’t carry on without medication. So, I had to endure the long wait of a file being opened and all that. But, thereafter, I was pleasantly surprised at how smooth everything went. Once my file was open, my blood glucose and blood pressure was checked and then I waited a while to see a doctor. I showed the doctor my previous script from when I was on medical aid,” Des explains.

The doctor then informed Des that as a government hospital, a lot of the medication he was on, they don’t stock. So, she would prescribe him medications they do stock, accordingly to her assessment of him.

Change in medication

Des was prescribed Austell Metformin, and Actraphane insulin flexi pens (contains both fast-acting (soluble) and long-acting (isophane) insulin). He administers 30 units of insulin a day and takes metformin twice daily.

Since taking the new medication, his glucose level readings have been excellent. “I saw a difference within a week. It has been between 4 and the highest, it has been is 7. This morning, it was 4,4. That is compared to 13 and 19 that I was getting when I wasn’t taking any medication,” Des explains.

Motivated and managing glucose levels well

Since the improvement in Des’ glucose readings, the 62-year-old grandfather checks his glucose levels every morning. “Before that I would only check maybe twice a week. Seeing the good readings motivates me to check every day. The reason I only checked once or twice a week is I knew that it was going to be high and that upset me,” explains Des.

Des goes on to say that he is not only motivated to manage his diabetes better but he is also feeling much better. “I feel healthier!”

Des is happy with the service and care he gets at the public hospital and will have his three-monthly check-up appointment with the doctor this month.


Laurelle Williams is the Editor at Word for Word Media. She graduated from AFDA with a Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in Live Performance. She has a love for storytelling and sharing emotions through the power of words. Her aim is to educate, encourage and most of all show there is always hope. Feel free to email Laurelle on [email protected]

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