Diabetes is becoming increasingly prevalent in the United States with almost 10% of the population living with the condition. Almost 90% of those with diabetes have type 2.
It’s important to note the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
Type 1 Diabetes – is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the pancreas which creates insulin.
Type 2 Diabetes – the body does not produce enough insulin, does not respond well or both.
Gestational diabetes – occurs during pregnancy when the body needs more insulin. Typically this condition goes away after pregnancy. This may come back in future pregnancies or may evolve into type 2 diabetes later in life.
There are several misconceptions about diabetes which include diet, risk factors, symptoms and management.
It’s important to separate fact from fiction so that those looking for answers aren’t confused by the misinformation available online.
Let’s take a look at 10 common diabetes myths and reveal the truth behind them.
1. MYTH: People with diabetes can’t eat sugar
This is probably the biggest diabetes myth. Sugar does not directly cause diabetes. However, eating too much sugar can certainly lead to obesity which often leads to type 2 diabetes.
Sugar levels are certainly an important role for those with diabetes, however sugar itself is not a cause.
2. MYTH: Type 2 diabetes only affects fat people
While many believe that thin people don’t get type 2 diabetes, this is false.
Being overweight is certainly a risk factor in addition to other common factors such as ethnicity, age, family history and physical activity or a combination of the latter..
“Excess weight and fat distribution—especially visceral fat—certainly play an important role. But several other important factors also contribute to a person’s risk of type 2. Those include genetics, history of medication use, cancer or autoimmune history, and lifestyle habits, such as alcohol intake and smoking.”
-Emily Nosova, MD
After the age of 45 you should get your blood sugar levels checked every few years, especially if you live a sedentary lifestyle, have a family history of gestational diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
Despite obesity increasing the risk of getting the disease, it does not inevitably lead to it. In fact, the CDC estimates that of the estimated 39.8% of obese individuals in the US, only 13% have diabetes.
3. MYTH: Only a doctor can detect diabetes symptoms
There are early symptoms of type 2 diabetes that are often overlooked or ignored as they are subtle. This is likely the reason why 20% of people who have diabetes are unaware they have the condition.
If you are feeling dehydrated, drinking more fluids than usual, thirsty or hungry all the time, experiencing rapid weight loss or going to the bathroom more often than usual; you may want to consult your doctor to schedule a blood test.
4. MYTH: People who have type 2 diabetes don’t always require insulin
For most people with type 2 diabetes, insulin is typically required especially as the disease progresses. However, many have been able to manage their condition through exercise, weight loss and nutrition.
Just because you’ve started using insulin to manage your diabetes does not mean you’ve failed to manage your condition. It simply means your diabetes is changing. This is why some experts will refer to the condition as “non-insulin dependent” to “type 2 diabetes”.
5. MYTH: People with diabetes need to avoid carbs
While many people with diabetes try to manage their condition through diet plans, there is no evidence that suggests those with diabetes need to avoid carbs.
It has been found that having the right balance of carbs, protein and fats in your diet can help manage sugar levels. It’s important to consult a doctor or healthcare professional to assist you with diet information.
6. MYTH: Type 2 diabetes can be cured.
Although there is no cure for type 2 diabetes, the condition can be managed through healthy lifestyle changes, oral and insulin medication.
Many of have been able to reduce or stop their medications by incorporating diet, weight loss and physical activity. This state is referred as “remission” by doctors.
Even though a person can live a medicine-free life during the state of remission, they still run the risk of relapse.
For obese people with diabetes, losing weight, even through gastric bypass surgery has been able to reverse symptoms completely
In 2019, a study in Diabetologia found that 75% participants had their diabetes go into remission after 1 year who underwent Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery .
Even though there is no cure, you can improve the quality and length of life through making the right lifestyle changes and proper medication.
7. MYTH: You have to give yourself insulin shots
As previously mentioned, insulin is a hormone that regulates glucose levels in the body. If your body does not produce enough insulin (type 1) or you’ve developed insulin resistance (type 2), then you may require insulin medication.
While uncontrolled glucose levels can cause serious damage in the body, it may lead to needing insulin to control blood sugar. However, this is not always the case for those with type 2 diabetes. Through healthy lifestyel changes such as diet and weight loss can help avoid having to take diabetes medications.
8. MYTH You will lose a limb
Every year diabetes causes amputations and is considered the leading cause of blindness.
The CDC estimates that only 0.56% of those require amputation and 11.7% have visual impairment of those with diabetes in the US.
Amputations occur from nerve damage caused by the disease which reduces blood flow to the lower extremities. Even a small cut may be harder to heal.
To avoid these devastating consequences, check your feet daily and attend annual checks with your health practitioner.
You can live complication free through controlling blood pressure, glucose levels, weight, managing diet, exercise and not smoking.
For those who make these lifestyle adjustments, it’s extremely rare for this to occur.
9. MYTH: Exercise is dangerous for people with diabetes
Living an active lifestyle can be help controlling type 2 diabetes.
Exercise can increase insulin sensitivity, regulate blood sugar levels and cause the body to use insulin more efficiently.
Additionally, exercise can cause weight loss and reduce blood pressure, both of which are factors that may lead to future complications.
This is why it’s important for those with type 2 diabetes.
It’s recommended to check your blood sugar levels during physical activity and keep a record of how it behaves.
10. MYTH: Prediabetes always leads to diabetes
1 in 3 adults in the US (estimated 88 million) have prediabetes.
This condition is where blood sugar levels are higher than average but not quite high enough to be considered diabetes.
If left unattended, prediabetes can develop into type 2 diabetes.
As mentioned several times through out this article, making the right lifestyle choices such as incorporating a healthy diet and regular physical activity can help avoid diabetes entirely.