Dispelling long-held myths about diabetes

Created date

July 26th, 2011

Many people have deeply ingrained perceptions about diabetes and its treatment, says David M. Kendall, M.D., senior medical advisor for Lilly Diabetes and former chief scientific and medical officer for the American Diabetes Association. The more you understand about diabetes, the easier it becomes to successfully manage it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 26 million Americans have diabetes, but only about 18 million are diagnosed. Even more are at risk: Roughly 79 million U.S. adults have pre-diabetes, which means you have blood glucose levels higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes, says Hope Warshaw, R.D., C.D.E., registered dietitian and author of the American Diabetes Association s Diabetes Meal Planning Made Easy. Having pre-diabetes puts you at high risk for developing type 2 diabetes. About 95% of people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes the majority over age 40, Kendall says. Your body either doesn t produce enough insulin or doesn t respond to insulin. Type 1 diabetes, in which the body produces little or no insulin, can occur at any age, but many people are diagnosed in childhood or early teen years.

Myth: My diabetes isn t that serious.

Some people think that if they are diagnosed with diabetes, they only need to follow a healthy eating plan, lose a few pounds, and perhaps eventually they ll need a diabetes pill. But we ve learned that type 2 diabetes is a progressive disease and the progression typically gets a kick start nearly a decade before blood glucose is high enough for a diagnosis, Warshaw explains. Diabetes affects your heart, kidneys, nerves, and vision, says Eugenio Machado, M.D., senior medical director at Riderwood, an Erickson Living community in Silver Spring, Md. Some people believe they ll die before any complications catch up with them. It doesn t matter how old you are. Controlling your diabetes now can help you live a longer, healthier life.

Myth: To stay healthy, all I have to do is control my blood glucose.

Studies show that when people think diabetes, they think blood glucose. They don t make the link between diabetes and cardiovascular problems. Yet two-thirds of people with diabetes have high blood pressure and the most common causes of death result from cardiovascular disease, Warshaw says. To stay healthy, you need to focus squarely on your ABCs, Warshaw explains. A for glucose control (the A1C result), B for blood pressure, and C for cholesterol. You also need to attend to other preventive measures like physical activity, healthy eating, and regular checkups to detect and treat complications, Machado says. Foot care is very important even a simple callous can quickly develop into an ulcer or infection.

Myth: I have to be on a strict diet absolutely no sugar!

Sugar is a carbohydrate and knowing how much total carbohydrate is in your diet is what s important, Kendall says. The American Diabetes Association and other health authorities recommend that about 45% to 65% of daily calories should come from carbohydrates. People with type 2 diabetes, like the general public, should go easy on added sugars and sweets, Warshaw says. But they should eat sufficient amounts of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy foods all healthy sources of carbohydrates. Paying attention to portion size can make it easier to quantify your carbohydrate intake, Machado adds. For most people, three to four servings each day are sufficient.

Myth: It s my fault that I have diabetes.

Many people think they somehow brought diabetes on themselves, either by eating a lot of sugar over the years or being overweight, Kendall says. Type 2 diabetes is caused by a complex interplay of risk factors involving genetics, lifestyle, and environment. Being overweight is certainly a risk factor, and if your extra weight is caused by your diet like eating excess sugar and fat you can change that by adhering to a healthy meal plan and exercising, he adds. But some normal-weight people with healthy lifestyles still develop diabetes.

Myth: It s difficult to live with diabetes.

For most people, treating diabetes is not as complicated as it used to be, Kendall says. More tools are at our disposal than 20 years ago. Today s oral medications provide good diabetes control with fewer side effects. Some of these are small pills taken once a day. With improved technology, checking blood glucose has become a simpler process, Machado adds. And thinner, shorter needles; insulin pens; and insulin pumps have made taking insulin a lot easier. Regular checkups are important because diabetes is easily detected even before it has caused symptoms or problems, Kendall says. Arming yourself with information is the best way to successfully manage your disease and lead a full and active life.