An Emirati woman in Abu Dhabi has reversed diabetes in two years after she embarked on a healthier lifestyle.
Huda Al Ali was diagnosed with type-2 diabetes in 2019 and was unaware of how her high blood sugar levels were slowly damaging her heart.
The 51-year-old developed the condition in 2002 after she started to suffer from Crohn’s disease, a type of inflammatory bowel disease.
The disease increases the risk of type-2 diabetes, and the cortisone shots she had to take to control Crohn's raised her blood sugar levels significantly.
She found out about her diabetes 17 years later when the symptoms started to escalate.
“I was not monitoring my sugar levels while on the cortisone shots, it just escalated,” said the retired Royal Jet manager.
“Two years ago, I started feeling more and more lethargic, drowsy and thirsty. I knew something wasn’t right.”
She visited a clinic in Abu Dhabi and was told that her blood sugar levels were dangerously high.
“I was shocked to hear that my blood sugar was over 500mg/dL. A blood sugar level less than 140mg/dL is normal. The cumulative glucose was 13.7 per cent but the normal should be 6 and for diabetics the maximum should be 7; if it reaches 8, it is dangerous,” she said.
Cumulative glucose is the amount of haemoglobin with attached glucose and reflects the average blood glucose levels over the past six months.
She was told to consult a specialist at the Imperial College London Diabetes Centre in Abu Dhabi.
“They prescribed insulin, cholesterol pills and told me precisely what to do to drop down the sugar level,” she said.
Ms Al Ali said she followed the doctor’s orders and revamped her lifestyle.
“I have two daughters, Alya, 34, and Afra, 33, who are always cautious of their health and whenever their weight starts to increase they immediately follow a strict diet. I am the one who usually prepares their food so I started eating healthy as well,” she said.
“I only use original olive oil to cook, and we don’t cook Emirati food such as rice and chicken every day. Instead, we prepare light food like salads, grilled fish and chicken.”
Whenever she craves carbs such as bread and rice, Ms Al Ali said she eats a quarter of the portion she used to have.
The hardest change, she said, was giving up sweets.
“I have never imagined that I could quit dessert and sugar. I always took sugar with my morning coffee.”
She cut down from three teaspoons to half a teaspoon and started using alternative sweeteners until she reached zero sugar in her drinks.
“And when I go to the supermarket and see the cakes and desserts I say ‘a’uwthu bi Allah min al shaytan al rageem’, an Arabic prayer that translates as 'I seek refuge from Allah from the outcast Satan'."
Muslims often recite this prayer to avoid temptation, anger or any sort of potential harm.
Ms Al Ali said she does not completely deprive herself. Instead she "controls the amounts" she consumes.
“I managed to bring down the sugar level to 6.5 per cent [in three months]. It was a miracle how I was able to control it," she said.
Before her lifestyle changes, Ms Al Ali said she weighed 98kg. Eight months later, it had fallen to 70kg.
She also managed to reduce her blood pressure levels from 140/70mmHG to an average of 125/65mmHG and cut her bad cholesterol by 50 per cent from 2.6mmol/L to 1.3mmol/L within a year.
This resulted in a reduction of her overall cardiovascular risk score from a high 17 per cent to a negligible 0.7 per cent.
Dr Aftab Ahmad, consultant endocrinologist and diabetologist at the centre, said lifestyle changes are the “cornerstone, and can even lead to redemption of diabetes”.
He said that Ms Al Ali suffered from high cardiovascular risk. But the issue usually is “how much a person can implement the proper lifestyle”.
“With Huda, there were multiple factors: her weight and cholesterol were uncontrolled, and all of those were serious cardiovascular risk issues," he said.
“She was able to change her diet completely and she was able to exercise in a more regular fashion.
“And the compliance with the medication, which is another lifestyle, change came into play. If the patient doesn’t commit to them it is of no use.
“We were trying to prevent it. She doesn’t have a heart problem now.
“We can still fight and prolong life, but it is about preventing the event from happening in the first place because one cardiovascular event could be a heart attack or a stroke that would reduce life expectancy.”