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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.

Information

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 Hispanic/Latino American, African American, American Indian, Alaska Native (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 doctor 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 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 awhile, walking 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 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.

References

American Diabetes Association. Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes - 2018. Diabetes Care. 2018;41(Suppl 1).

Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St Geme JW, Schor NF. Diabetes mellitus. In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St Geme JW, Schor NF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 12th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 589.

Marion J, Franz MS. Diabetes nutrition therapy: Effectiveness, macronutrients, eating patterns and weight management. Am J Med Sci. 2016;351(4):374-379. PMID: 27079343 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27079343.

Waller DG, Sampson AP. Diabetes mellitus. In: Waller DG, Sampson AP, eds. Medical Pharmacology & Therapeutics. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 40.

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          Review Date: 1/24/2019

          Reviewed By: Brent Wisse, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Metabolism, Endocrinology & Nutrition, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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