Ismail Ali thought carb blockers could help him enjoy a 5,000-calorie sugar-laden diet guilt-free, until a haemorrhoid infection caused his body to go into septic shock.
Forty-year-old Ismail Ali has struggled with his weight since he was a child.
His high-pressure job only made it worse. As the manager of a newsroom, he was required to keep his devices switched on 24/7 to keep abreast of social and political events as they unfolded, and managed a team covering these events. To release stress, he smoked and drank excessively, and consumed large amounts of fatty and sugary foods.
By 2017, his weight had increased to 150kg, considered obese even for his 185cm-tall frame. This was when he discovered carb blockers, a dietary supplement that claims to enable consumers to indulge in as much carbohydrates as they want, without suffering its consequences. He took carb blockers for about a year, and in that time, his intake of rice, noodles, and soft drinks increased.
“I thought that carb blockers made me invincible, so to speak, so I stopped caring about the type of food I ate. I was consuming about 5,000 calories a day then. As I was working out as well, my weight did not increase by much. In fact, at one point I even lost some weight,” he shares.
His weight loss convinced him that his exercise regimen and carb blockers were working. However, unbeknownst to him, his sugar levels were through the roof and his health was on the decline.
A close call
Ismail had planned to fly to Myanmar to be one of the groomsmen at his best friend’s wedding in January 2018, just days after returning from a particularly gruelling work trip to Kuala Lumpur. He had been suffering from infected haemorrhoids, and his general practitioner (GP) had prescribed him a course of antibiotics for the infection. He had also been experiencing frequent urination, dehydration, thirst, lethargy, and weight loss for some time which he attributed to his stressful lifestyle.
Unfortunately, his condition worsened. His fever did not subside, and he was at times in such tremendous pain that he lost consciousness. Ismail cancelled his trip to Myanmar and paid another visit to his GP, who advised him to get admitted to hospital immediately.
“Upon admission, I was told that my blood platelet count was extremely low, and I had to undergo a simple surgery to remove the infected haemorrhoids,” Ismail recalls.
Seven days later, Ismail woke up in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the hospital, hooked up to various machines with no recollection of what had happened. He was later informed by his doctor and nurses that his body had gone into septic shock as the infection from the haemorrhoids had entered his blood stream.
He also found out that the symptoms he had been having were caused by diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), a potentially life-threatening complication of diabetes which happens when one’s blood sugar levels are too high for too long. Both these conditions had caused his organs to start shutting down.
Dr Ben Ng, Endocrinologist at Arden Endocrinology Specialist Clinic says, “Listening to Ismail’s story, it seems likely that his diabetes could have been present for a while.”
“The problem with high blood sugars is their values tend to rise during times of illness and increased stress. The high values of sugar increase the risk of infection and make wounds more difficult to heal. Therefore, when blood sugars are high, very often, infections take longer to improve, and stronger and longer courses of antibiotics may be required to bring it under control. The presence of diabetes before and during a surgical procedure also increases the risk of complications during surgery,” adds Dr Ng.
Ismail recalls, “My doctors told me that it was challenging for them to find the right combination of drugs to treat the infection, and that was why they were forced to put me in a medically-induced coma to effectively treat me.”
“While I was in a coma, my family members were gathered, and told to prepare for the worst.”
A second chance
This was a real wake-up call for the then 37-year-old. When he was discharged a week later, he was prescribed a course of antibiotics for the infection, insulin to manage his blood sugar levels, as well as metformin, a treatment prescribed for type-2 diabetes for those who are overweight. Ismail decided it was time for him to take control of his life and health.
“I went on a Keto diet, where only 10% of my diet consisted of carbs. I treated the Keto diet not as a long-term solution, but as a way to kick start my weight loss and bring my sugar levels down. I also quit smoking cold turkey, converted one of the rooms in my apartment into a gym, and picked up cycling again,” shares Ismail.
With his sugar levels under control, he was eventually taken off insulin. A few months ago, his doctor also gave him the green light to stop taking metformin.
He currently practices Intermittent Fasting and the Low-Carb-High-Fat (LCHF) dieting approach, and diligently counts his calories. He admits that he has changed the way he sees food and has learned to listen to his body better. He religiously does one hour of cardio exercises daily, and on alternate days does 30 minutes of weight-training.
Today, Ismail weighs about 136kg and although he admits he is far from his ideal weight, he feels much better about himself. He has also recently taken up a job in a less stressful environment and is much happier as a result.
“Sometimes we need to stop and ask ourselves: am I doing okay, physically and mentally? Am I neglecting myself?” he says.
“In hindsight, I could have managed certain aspects of my life better, but I also believe that everything happens for a reason. What happened to me has made me look at life differently. I am in a much happier and healthier place now than I have been in a very long time.”
An expert’s comments
Dr Ng says, “Ismail’s story is admirable, but it also serves as a reminder for those with high blood sugars to consult your doctor. The main issue with having high blood sugars is that complications can start to happen long before the condition is diagnosed.”
“Every circumstance is different and certain individuals may already have early signs of organ damage when they are diagnosed. In some circumstances, medications or aggressive therapy may need to be initiated in spite of the patient being highly motivated and willing to change their lifestyle. Each condition and each individual is different.”
He adds, “This is why it is important to screen regularly for diabetes, as it is becoming more prevalent even among the younger population. A healthy diet and lifestyle management remain the best way to manage if not treat chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol.”
All photos courtesy of Ismail Ali.
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