8 Diabetes Myths Debunked

Nearly 26 million Americans and 347 million people worldwide have diabetes. You’ve probably heard of it and you may even know people who it affects. But do you know the truth about common diabetes myths?

Myth 1: Diabetes is one disease.

Diabetes mellitus is actually a group of diseases, all of which affect how your body uses glucose. The two reversible forms are pre-diabetes and gestational diabetes (the kind that can occur during pregnancy). The chronic forms are type 1 and type 2.

Myth 2: Type 1 diabetes is always diagnosed in young people.

Type 1 diabetes was previously known as juvenile diabetes because it was often diagnosed in young people. That name has been dropped because some people aren’t diagnosed until their 20s. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that causes the immune system to attack and kill insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Without insulin, glucose builds up in the blood stream. Type 1 is believed to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Myth 3: Only fat people have type 2 diabetes.

Like type 1 diabetes, type 2 is linked to genetic and environmental factors. It is also strongly linked to being overweight. However, not every person with type 2 diabetes is overweight or obese. In both pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes, a person’s body has become resistant to insulin or does not produce enough of it. As a result, sugar builds up in the blood stream.

Myth 4: Developing gestational diabetes means you already had diabetes.

Gestational diabetes affects about 18 percent of pregnant women and usually goes away after birth. When women are pregnant, the placenta releases hormones that make cells more insulin-resistant. For most women, their pancreas simply amps up insulin production, but if that doesn’t happen, glucose builds up in the bloodstream and the woman develops gestational diabetes.

Myth 5: If have diabetes, you should read every article you can find about it.

Amy F. Ryan, author of SHOT: Staying Alive with Diabetes, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 29. She says that while learning about the disease is invaluable for the newly diagnosed, they should be careful about overdoing it. The complications of diabetes can be scary, says Ryan, and she instructs people to start with the basics and build their knowledge according to their comfort level. She also strongly advises getting in touch with other diabetics, either online or in their communities.

Myth 6: We’ve figured diabetes out, so it’s easy to manage.

Ryan says making sure you’re on top of your supplies is a big part of being diabetic. Diabetics have to deal with insulin, syringes, glucose meters, and testing strips. They also have to keep track of which parts of their treatment are covered by insurance, which have co-pays, and what is happening with their prescriptions.

Myth 7: Once you have had diabetes for a while, you should have it perfectly under control.

The medical world is pretty comfortable with diabetes and many people with diabetes manage it well. That doesn’t mean it’s a simple disease. “You’ve got to deal with this every single day and it can really get you down at times,” says Ryan. “But I just say, if you’re trying to do a good job, give yourself a break and know that tomorrow’s another day.”

Myth 8: Medicine is the only way to treat diabetes.

Type 1 diabetics require insulin injections or the use of an insulin pump. Type 2 diabetics sometimes use injections as well. But diet and exercise can also help treat all forms of diabetes. There is no “diabetes diet,” but there are some general guidelines diabetics should follow. Doctors recommend a diet that is heavy in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and low in sugary foods, animal products, and refined carbs. Occasional sugar is fine but should be carefully accounted for. Exercise also helps because it causes glucose to be taken up by muscles. It also increases sensitivity to insulin.