Diabetes myths and facts
Diabetes - common myths and facts; High blood sugar myths and facts
Diabetes is a long-term (chronic) disease in which the body cannot regulate the amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood. Diabetes is a complicated disease. If you have diabetes, or know anyone who has it, you may have questions about the disease. There are many popular myths about diabetes and its management. Here are some facts you should know about diabetes.
Diabetes is on the rise worldwide, and is a serious, lifelong disease that can lead to heart disease, stroke, and lasting nerve, eye and foot problems. Let's talk about diabetes and the difference between the three types of diabetes. So, what exactly is diabetes and where does it come from? An organ in your body called the pancreas produces insulin, a hormone that controls the levels of your blood sugar. When you have too little insulin in your body, or when insulin doesn't work right in your body, you can have diabetes, the condition where you have abnormally high glucose or sugar levels in your blood. Normally when you eat food, glucose enters your bloodstream. Glucose is your body's source of fuel. Your pancreas makes insulin to move glucose from your bloodstream into muscle, fat, and liver cells, where your body turns it into energy. People with diabetes have too much blood sugar because their body cannot move glucose into fat, liver, and muscle cells to be changed into and stored for energy. There are three major types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes happens when the body makes little or no insulin. It usually is diagnosed in children, teens, or young adults. But about 80% of people with diabetes have what's called Type 2 diabetes. This disease often occurs in middle adulthood, but young adults, teens, and now even children are now being diagnosed with it linked to high obesity rates. In Type 2 diabetes, your fat, liver, and muscle cells do not respond to insulin appropriately. Another type of diabetes is called gestational diabetes. It's when high blood sugar develops during pregnancy in a woman who had not had diabetes beforehand. Gestational diabetes usually goes away after the baby is born. But, still pay attention. These women are at a higher risk of type 2 diabetes over the next 5 years without a change in lifestyle. If you doctor suspects you have diabetes, you will probably have a hemoglobin A1c test. This is an average of your blood sugar levels over 3 months. You have pre-diabetes if your A1c is 5.7% to 6.4%. Anything at 6.5% or higher indicates you have diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is a wake up call to focus on diet and exercise to try to control your blood sugar and prevent problems. If you do not control your blood sugar, you could develop eye problems, have problems with sores and infections in your feet, have high blood pressure and cholesterol problems, and have kidney, heart, and problems with other essential organs. People with Type 1 diabetes need to take insulin every day, usually injected under the skin using a needle. Some people may be able to use a pump that delivers insulin to their body all the time. People with Type 2 diabetes may be able to manage their blood sugar through diet and exercise. But if not, they will need to take one or more drugs to lower their blood sugar levels. The good news is, people with any type of diabetes, who maintain good control over their blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure, have a lower risk of kidney disease, eye disease, nervous system problems, heart attack, and stroke, and can live, a long and healthy life.
Myth: No one in my family has diabetes, so I won't get the disease.
Fact: It's true that having a parent or sibling with diabetes increases your risk for getting diabetes. In fact, family history is a risk factor for both type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes. However, many people with diabetes have no close family members with diabetes.
Lifestyle choices and certain conditions can increase your risk for type 2 diabetes. These include:
- Being overweight or obese
- Having prediabetes
- Polycystic ovary disease
- Gestational diabetes
- Being of Hispanic/Latino American, African American, American Indian, or Alaska Native descent (some Pacific Islanders and Asian Americans are also at risk)
- Being age 45 or older
You can help reduce your risk by staying at a healthy weight, exercising most days of the week, and eating a healthy diet.
Myth: I will likely develop diabetes because I am overweight.
Fact: It is true that excess weight increases your chance of having diabetes. However, many people who are overweight or obese never develop diabetes. And people who are normal weight or only a little overweight do develop diabetes. Your best bet is to take steps to lower your risk by using nutritional changes and physical activity to lose excess weight.
Myth: I eat a lot of sugar, so I am worried I'll get diabetes.
Fact: Eating sugar does not cause diabetes. But you should still cut back on sweets and sugary beverages.
It's not surprising that people get confused about whether sugar causes diabetes. This confusion may come from the fact that when you eat food, it is converted into a sugar called glucose. Glucose, also called blood sugar, is a source of energy for the body. Insulin moves glucose from the blood into the cells so it can be used for energy. With diabetes, the body does not make enough insulin, or the body does not use insulin well. As a result, the extra sugar stays in the blood, so the blood glucose (blood sugar) level increases.
For people who do not have diabetes, the main problem with eating a lot of sugar and drinking sugar-sweetened beverages is that it can make you overweight. And being overweight does increase your risk for diabetes.
Myth: I was told I have diabetes, so now I'll have to eat a special diet.
Fact: People with diabetes eat the same foods that everyone eats. In fact, The American Diabetes Association no longer recommends specific amounts of carbohydrate, fat, or protein to eat. But they do suggest that people with diabetes get their carbohydrates from vegetables, whole grains, fruits, and legumes. Avoid foods that are high in fat, sodium, and sugar. These recommendations are similar to what everyone should be eating.
If you have diabetes, work with your health care provider to develop a meal plan that works best for you and that you will be able to follow consistently over time. A healthy and balanced meal plan with a healthy lifestyle will help you manage diabetes.
Myth: I have diabetes, so I can never eat sweets.
Fact: Sweets are full of simple sugars, which increase the amount of glucose in your blood more than other foods. But they are not off limits for people with diabetes, as long as you plan for them. It's best to save sweets for special occasions or as a treat. You can eat small amounts of sugar in place of other carbohydrates usually eaten at a meal. If you take insulin your provider may instruct you to take higher doses than normal when you do eat sweets.
Myth: My provider put me on insulin. This means I am not doing a good job managing my blood sugar.
Fact: People with type 1 diabetes must use insulin because their body no longer produces this important hormone. Type 2 diabetes is progressive, which means that the body makes less insulin over time. So over time, exercise, diet changes, and oral medicines or non-insulin injectable medicines may not be enough to keep your blood sugar in control. Then you need to use insulin to keep blood sugar in a healthy range.
Myth: It is not safe to exercise with diabetes.
Fact: Getting regular exercise is an important part of managing diabetes. Exercise helps boost your body's sensitivity to insulin. It can also help lower your A1C, a test that helps tell how well your diabetes is controlled.
A good goal is to aim for at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-to-vigorous exercise like brisk walking. Include two sessions a week of strength training as part of your exercise routine. If you haven't exercised in a while, walking at a brisk pace (you can talk, but not sing) is a great way to slowly build your fitness.
Talk to your provider to make sure your exercise program is safe for you. Depending on how well-controlled your diabetes is, you will need to prevent and monitor for problems with your eyes, heart, and feet. Also, learn how to take your medicines when you exercise or how to adjust the dosage of medicines, such as insulin, to prevent low blood sugar.
Myth: I have borderline diabetes, so I don't need to worry.
Fact:Prediabetes is the term used for those whose blood sugar levels are not in the diabetes range but are too high to be called normal. Prediabetes means that you are at high risk for developing diabetes within 10 years. You may be able to lower your blood sugar to normal levels by lowering your body weight and exercising 150 minutes a week.
Talk to your provider about your risk for diabetes and what you can do to lower your risk.
Myth: I can stop taking diabetes medicines once my blood sugar is under control.
Fact: Some people with type 2 diabetes are able to control their blood sugar without medicine by losing weight, eating a healthy diet, and getting regular exercise. But diabetes is a progressive disease, and over time, even if you are doing all you can to stay healthy, you may need medicine to keep your blood sugar within your target range.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Diabetes risk factors.
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Last reviewed on: 5/12/2023
Reviewed by: Sandeep K. Dhaliwal, MD, board-certified in Diabetes, Endocrinology, and Metabolism, Springfield, VA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.