Type 2 diabetes and life expectancy

Lynette Lacock elaborates on how Type 2 diabetes can affect life expectancy as well offering advice to prolong your life.

What is Type 2 diabetes?

Our bodies need to do two things to regulate blood glucose. The pancreas needs to produce the right amount of insulin and the cells need to be able to react to this insulin to supply the cells with the fuel that we call glucose. If you have Type 2 diabetes, your body isn’t doing either of these effectively.

There is a genetic component to Type 2 diabetes and it can run in families, but the main cause is lifestyle choices. Being overweight, food choices and a sedentary lifestyle are all contributing factors. Not that long ago, it was called adult onset diabetes but due to the rise in childhood obesity there are now so many children with this type of diabetes that we can no longer use that phrase.

Symptoms of Type 2 diabetes

You may be experiencing symptoms that you didn’t even realise were being caused by diabetes. These symptoms can develop slowly, and you may not even be aware that you already have diabetes.

This is a good argument for frequent health checks. You can go into most pharmacies these days and pay a small fee to have you blood glucose checked. If you’re living with high blood glucose, your body is already suffering the negative effects without you even knowing.

If you’re having any of the following symptoms, please get tested.

  • Always feeling tired
  • Loss of weight
  • Vision is blurry
  • Sores take long to heal
  • Frequent infections (urinary tract, chest, etc.)
  • Tingling or numbness in extremities (usually a late sign)
  • Needing to urinate often
  • Thirsty all the time

Life expectancy with Type 2 diabetes

Before the discovery of insulin in 1921, the only treatment for diabetes was eating a diet low in carbohydrates and high in protein and fat. And this only extended your life by another year if you were lucky.

Today, we are fortunate that we have medications and monitoring devices to regulate blood glucose levels that help people with diabetes live a fuller life.

Medication and modern technology aside, diabetes is still the ninth leading cause of death worldwide. Someone with diabetes lives an average of six years less than someone without diabetes. This average can increase or decrease depending on lifestyle and other comorbidities.

People with Type 2 diabetes are also more at risk for developing coronary artery disease, cancer, hypertension and obesity. Having comorbidities, particularly uncontrolled comorbidities, can decrease your life expectancy.

How to increase your life expectancy

Unfortunately, there are factors that you have no control over that make you more susceptible to developing Type 2 diabetes, such as family history, race and age.

If you have a family member with diabetes, you have a higher chance of developing it as well due to the genetic component involved.  People of colour have a higher chance of developing Type 2 diabetes although we are not sure why. And, the risk for developing Type 2 diabetes increases as you age.

Factors you can change

It’s important to remain focused on the factors you can change:

  • Weight – You need to maintain a healthy weight (BMI < 30).
  • Activity level – Exercise, exercise and exercise, particularly if you have a sedentary job.
  • Cholesterol – Follow a low-fat diet and have your cholesterol tested regularly. If you are prescribed medication, take it.
  • Diet – Watch your caloric intake and avoid high-GI foods that are high in carbohydrates and sugar.
  • Blood glucose regulation – Keep your blood glucose within normal range. Unregulated blood glucose plays havoc on your body and should be avoided.

Turn things around

Did you know that Type 2 diabetes is preventable? If you were diagnosed with prediabetes or insulin resistance you can turn things around by changing your lifestyle and possibly never go on to develop diabetes.

If you have already been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, you can still improve your life expectancy by making changes to improve your health. This will make it easier to regulate your blood glucose and avoid the damage to your body that uncontrolled levels can cause.

At first, it may be difficult to make these life changes and stay motivated. You may need extra support and encouragement. Fortunately Diabetes South Africa offers support and useful information through membership, literature and Diabetes Community Wellness and Support Groups that can assist in keeping you on track.


Sr Lynette Lacock


Sr Lynette Lacock received her Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing and Biofeedback Certification in Neurofeedback in the US. She has over 30 years’ experience in healthcare which has enabled her to work in the US, UK and South Africa. Initially specialising in Cardiothoracic and Neurological ICU, she now works as an Occupational Health Sister. She is passionate about teaching people how to obtain optimum health while living with chronic conditions.

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