“You Have Sugar”—Being Diagnosed with Diabetes in India


If you are currently not fully-diagnosed or are pre-diabetic and look like you have all the symptoms of type 1 diabetes and someone comes with herbal medication or some homemade concoction that they swear by, do me—hold on, do yourself—a favour and say, “NO.”

I got diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in October 2015, but 18 months before that I had been through nearly every herbal medication on offer and I went through the whole phase of ignoring, denying, panicking and gave in to trying anything to not have SUGAR!!!

With 60+ million people with diabetes (7.1 percent of India’s adult population) already with diabetes, it’s estimated that the nation is fast becoming the diabetes capital of the world and will have 100+ million people with diabetes by 2030. As a native born in Jammu and Kashmir, I know that we cannot afford to remain ignorant and give into so many misconceptions of what diabetes is. It’s more than a health issue; it’s becoming both a mental and social issue to understand.

Ketoacidosis, retinopathy, neuropathy, nephropathy, cardiovascular issues and feet issues are just some of the potential complications if diabetes isn’t diagnosed, treated in time or treated properly. Can we afford to be ignorant and give into misconceptions with the lack of accurate information and prevalence of false media coverage?

Obesity is already an epidemic, so is a sedentary lifestyle and if we just go by global stats: 90 percent of people with diabetes are type 2. There is little awareness around type 2, let alone an understanding of what type 1 is.

What people commonly think about diabetes in India…

  • That you will die soon
  • There is only one type of diabetes.
  • You shouldn’t ask questions about it.
  • That it’s your fault that you have diabetes
  • Seeing someone give an insulin shot is shocking.
  • You’re unmarriable.
  • Not eating the food that is offered to you is highly offensive.

The majority of the people in India refer to diabetes as having “sugar” and still think you get type 1 by eating a lot of sweets. The majority will also do anything to hide that from family, friends, colleagues and society in general. Forget the fact that sugar alone has nothing to do with getting type 1 diabetes—the power of this misconception along with the full faith in the random dude selling herbal stuff in the corner of the street is hands down insane. Everyone knows someone who got cured by using “X” medication, but when you dig deep to find (as an engineer and data nerd would) the root cause of this supposed cure, it had nothing to do with it.

It’s like the L’Oréal advert that says 20 percent of the 14 women (might not be randomly picked) found some change in complexion so every woman on the planet should buy this cream. Results concerning these treatments are far too subjective and even less medically based. When I was going through the process of ignoring, denying and panicking about my development of type 1 diabetes, my parents, too, were losing sleep and freaking out. As I continued to feel worse and my blood sugars rose, my mother pleaded with me to try local medicine. Ayurveda doctors asked me not to play sports and just go for walks. So many ridiculous claims were made about my condition as I continued to feel worse and no one seemed to be able to help. Praying to God and hoping it went away was not helping either. I finally self-diagnosed using Google, realizing that all my symptoms were lining up with a type 1 diagnosis.

Things I tried…

  • Okra Water
  • Withania Coaglans Water
  • Syzygium Cumini powder with Water
  • Cinnamon Water
  • Eating Bitter Gourd
  • Fenugreek seeds

They all taste awful, most of them “need to be taken on an empty stomach” and there is no scientific study or evidence that they can help with type 1 diabetes. How are you supposed to take all of them each morning on empty stomach? And if you took all—how would you know which one worked? Take a moment and think about it.

I finally got through to an endocrine specialist and he informed me and my dad that it was definitely type 1 and that I should take insulin quickly and head back to the UK and talk to my doctor.

My GP (local doctor) said however, that we should first try metformin and see after three months what my HbA1c was like. Metformin was worse on my stomach than any herbal medication ever was, yet I was hoping it would work and I would not need insulin.

At some point, two months later, when I was still trying herbal medication with metformin, I knew the list of complications by delaying with insulin treatment, so I told my parents that I couldn’t risk it any further. I had to push my doctor to do my A1C and when it came back at 14.4 percent he immediately recommended me to a consultant and within a few weeks, after a two-minute appointment, I was on insulin.

I stopped taking metformin, stopped all herbal medications and within three months got my A1C down to 6.6 percent using insulin and experimenting with different food. I went from not being able to walk for five minutes to now training for cycling from London to Paris. I even visited India in December 2015 to show my parents how insulin and all my gadgets work and how I am still living a normal life. I was advised by my relatives to keep it a secret and not tell anyone I had “sugar.”

As I have written this, I question myself and think how stupid was I? How could social misconceptions and pressures cause me to try herbal medications? Or was it the concern in my parent’s eyes that convinced me? I have always taken pride in my ability to organize, plan and execute, which is coming in handy now in my work and my type 1 diabetes management, yet I found myself susceptible to these “false cures” because of prevailing ignorance.

Today, all my other vital functions are all normal. I still take my medication for hypothyroidism but don’t bother with herbal supplements that claim to replace insulin.

If you are new to diabetes or are pre-diabetic or just going through the ignoring, denying, panicking phases of diagnosis, I hope this helps. Remember: “Ignorance is not bliss,” especially in the twenty-first century with the access to information we have.

Have more questions for Sid? Contact him on Instagram or Twitter. Learn more on the global status of diabetes care in T1International and Their Global T1D Mission, an interview with Elizabeth Rowley.

WRITTEN BY Siddharth Sharma, POSTED 05/17/16, UPDATED 08/04/23

Siddharth Sharma is 27 years old and was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in October 2015. He currently resides in England but was born and brought up in India. He's an automotive engineer (Coventry University) by education and big data nerd (MIT) by Choice. Currently, he's working for Cummins Inc. as a supplier quality engineer. He loves sports, having played competitive cricket, and is currently training to cycle from London-Paris over three days in September for Diabetes UK. He's passionate about communication, travel, writing, books, meeting new people, photography and now raising awareness for type 1 diabetes.