Kevin McNally health: Pirates of the Caribbean actor on ‘shock’, ‘wake-up call’ diagnosis

Lorraine tells Phyllis Logan she fancies husband Kevin McNally

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The 66-year-old actor, who is married to Downton Abbey star Phyllis Logan (Mrs Hughes), is best known for portraying Joshamee Gibbs in the Disney pirate film series, but has also gone on to portray Captain Mainwaring in a series of “lost episodes” of the sitcom Dad’s Army. A few years ago, McNally gave an interview all about his best acting advice, what Pirates of the Caribbean was like to be a part of, and how he looks after his health and wellbeing, which is where he revealed his “shock” diabetes.

At the time, when asked how he looks after his health, he said: “Luckily, I’m a very positive person by nature, so my wellbeing’s fine.

“I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes four years ago, which was a shock, but a wake-up call and I saw it as an opportunity to improve my health.

“I lost a lot of weight, have improved my diet, and walk and swim. It’s well under control.

“I also stopped smoking six years ago which has stopped me getting endless colds.”

Despite the health shock, McNally was able to get on top of his diabetes, which is sadly not a reality for many others who also suffer from type 2 diabetes.

The “serious” condition occurs when the insulin in the pancreas cannot make enough to work properly. This leads to blood sugar levels rising to dangerously high levels.

As a main source of energy, blood glucose comes from the food we eat, and insulin helps glucose from this food to get into cells to be used for energy. It is important to note that individuals with type 2 diabetes still break down carbohydrates from food and drink, turning it into glucose. It is a fault with the insulin that means this glucose is not taken to cells, so levels build up in the blood.

Diabetes UK explains that for some people with type 2 diabetes, this can eventually tire the pancreas out completely, meaning their body makes less and less insulin. This can lead to even higher blood sugar levels and put them at risk of hyperglycaemia, sometimes known as a “hyper”.

A hyper is defined as when blood glucose levels are above 7mmol/l before a meal and above 8.5mmol/l two hours after a meal. As blood sugar levels rise, individuals will also experience the following symptoms:

  • Passing more urine than normal, especially at night
  • Being very thirsty
  • Tiredness and lethargy
  • Thrush or other recurring bladder and skin infections
  • Headaches
  • Blurred vision
  • Weight loss
  • Feeling sick.

These symptoms can be key in spotting that someone has type 2 diabetes if they are not diagnosed. In some cases, these symptoms develop slowly over the course of several years. With others not experiencing any symptoms.

In this case, individuals will often find out about their diabetes after consulting medical help for another health related problem such as blurred vision or heart disease.

Around 90 percent of people living with diabetes in the UK have type 2, and without treatment, the condition can cause serious damage to multiple parts of the body including the eyes, heart and feet.

There are certain risk factors that can make some more at risk of developing type 2 diabetes in comparison to others. These include:

  • Being overweight or obese
  • Not being physically active
  • Insulin resistance
  • Genes.

Due to these risk factors, it is possible for individuals to take preventable steps in order to avoid a diagnosis. These steps are similar to ones which individuals already diagnosed with type 2 diabetes can also take to manage their symptoms to avoid hyperglycaemia.

The key to managing blood sugar levels is to maintain a healthy diet and keep physically active. Although there is nothing you “can not eat” if you have type 2 diabetes, individuals will have to limit certain foods. The NHS recommends you should:

  • Eat a wide range of foods – including fruit, vegetables and some starchy foods like pasta
  • Keep sugar, fat and salt to a minimum
  • Eat breakfast, lunch and dinner every day – do not skip meals.

Ensuring that you get two-and-a-half hours of physical exercise a week should also help to lower blood sugar levels. This can be doing anything, anywhere, “as long as what you are doing gets you out of breath”. Examples include fast walking, climbing stairs and strenuous housework or gardening.

For those already diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, some forms of medications are available to lower blood sugar. Although not needed straight away, many people with type 2 diabetes need to use insulin as treatment at some point.

Diabetes UK notes that although feeling very thirsty is a symptom of a hyper, drinking a lot of water will not bring your blood sugar levels down. It will only help to reduce your risk of dehydration. If this happens, it is important that you take diabetes medication to bring your blood sugar levels down.

For McNally, managing his type 2 diabetes is one challenge that he has learnt to deal with over the years. Due to his motivation to look after his health, he admitted that he feels 20 years younger.

He added: “I hope having lots of interests – politics, science, astronomy and travelling – will help me stay fresher and younger in both mind and body. I feel around 40, although occasionally seeing my reflection in a shop window reminds me I’m not.”

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