• Halle Berry Talks About Living With Diabetes


    As the cameras rolled, the young actress knew she desperately needed to lie down. But before she could do anything she collapsed on set and was rushed to hospital.

    Hollywood star Halle Berry then lay dangerously ill in a diabetic coma for a week before waking to a life that would never be the same again.

    “Diabetes caught me completely off guard,” she explains.

    “None of my family had suffered from the illness and although I was slightly overweight in school, I thought I was pretty healthy.

    “I fell ill – dramatically – when I was on the TV show, Living Dolls, in 1989. I felt I needed energy but I didn’t even have a minute to pop out and get a chocolate bar. I didn’t really know what was wrong.”

    Halle, now 39, was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, where the body is unable to produce enough insulin to process sugar into energy.

    Unconscious for a week

    “I thought I could tough it out, but I couldn’t have been more wrong,” she says. “One day, I simply passed out, and I didn’t wake up for seven days, which is obviously very serious.”

    Type 2 Diabetes can take years to develop, with sufferers experiencing symptoms like Halle’s constant feelings of tiredness. Others include blurred vision, weight loss, raging thirst, genital itching and tingling in the hands and feet.

    Experts believe that more than half a million people in the UK alone are unknowingly living with the disease. Likely indicators are being overweight, leading a sedentary lifestyle and eating a sugar and carbohydrate-laden diet.

    The condition is also more common, and develops at a younger age in Afro-Caribbean and Asian communities because of genetic predisposition.

    It is most likely that Halle, who was born in Liverpool to a white English mother and black Afro-American father, falls into the last group.

    As she came round in hospital, doctors explained to her the seriousness of her condition.

    Although her pancreas was still producing some insulin it was less than she needed and her condition was beyond the stage where a diet change or new exercise regime would stop it progressing.

    She was told she would need daily insulin injections for the rest of her life, as well as a complete overhaul of her diet. And just in case she had any doubts about making such big changes, the medics spelled out exactly what uncontrolled diabetes could mean.

    ‘I could lose my legs’

    “They told me I might lose my eyesight, or I could lose my legs,” she remembers, with a shudder.

    “I was scared to death, I thought I was going to die.”

    They explained that due to excess sugar in the body diabetics can suffer kidney failure, have a five times higher risk of developing heart disease and 80 per of people with diabetes will die from cardiovascular complications.

    Halle Berry: Commenting on her Oscar-winning night

    Blindness is caused by a condition called retinopathy, in which blood vessels in the retina become blocked, leaky or even start to grow haphazardly. The worst-case scenario would be an early death.

    And with hindsight, Halle credits those doctors’ tough words with saving her life. She’s also enjoyed a top-flight career, winning a coveted role as a Bond girl and a Best Actress Oscar for her role in the film Monster’s Ball.

    “I went into hospital on my last breath, and came out feeling a hundred times better. I knew it was time to take better care of myself and I can honestly say that I am a healthier person than I was before I was taken ill.”

    Dramatic diet change

    The first thing Halle did was to change her diet to one low in fat, sugar and processed carbohydrates. So out went any sweet deserts, junk or processed food and in came a whole new way of eating.

    “I started to eat loads of wonderful fresh vegetables, chicken, fresh fish and pasta. I cut out red meat and cut back on fruit because it can contain quite a lot of sugar.

    “Now one of my favourite dishes is something simple but tasty such as grilled tuna and garlic mashed potato.”

    Although Halle says she craves salty rather than sweet things (her favourite foods are butter pecan ice cream and salt and vinegar crisps), if her sweet tooth does get the better of her she will satisfy it by sweetening her food with honey, molasses or low-calorie sweeteners.

    But it wasn’t just her food intake that needed to change. “I needed to pay attention of everything that could affect my blood sugar level, including diet exercise and stress,” she says.

    So she took on personal trainer, Robert White, who puts her through her paces four times a week. On top of this she enjoys daily sessions of yoga and loves to rollerblade near her Hollywood home.

    The final piece of the jigsaw in Halle’s successful diabetes management was control of her blood sugar and insulin levels.

    “I have to test my blood sugar levels at least a couple of times a day,” she explains.

    “I do a tiny pinprick, usually on my fingertips, and test it with a special kit which tell me how high or low my blood sugar levels are.

    “Then using this as a guide I inject myself with the correct dose of insulin to level up my blood sugar. “People always kind of cringe when I say that,” she laughs.

    “Actually I feel very lucky that I can take insulin. It saves me from becoming ill.” Now Halle, who also has only 80 per cent hearing in one ear after being beaten up by an early boyfriend, is on a crusade to enlighten the world about the dangers of diabetes.

    She is a spokesperson for the Novo Nordisk, a pharmaceutical company that specialises in making products for diabetes and she regularly does public speaking on living with the condition.

    “Diabetes turned out to be a gift,” she says. “It gave me strength and toughness because I had to face reality, no matter how uncomfortable or painful it was.”

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