Type 2 Diabetes Myths and Misconceptions

Diabetes is not a serious disease. Diabetes is a serious, chronic disease that can be controlled—but it still causes more deaths a year than breast cancer and AIDS combined. Two out of three people with diabetes die from heart disease or stroke.

Myth: Diabetes is a death sentence. Fact: Not true. More and more, the progress of this disease is in your hands. Dr. Scott Stratton-Smith, a family physician who treats many diabetics, often hears things like “I have sugar, my grandma had sugar, and she lost her legs and died.” He responds “It takes a long time to progress until you lose limbs. We can provide medications, but the initial treatment is diet and exercise. If you choose to follow the recommendations you’ll do well. It’s difficult to change your lifestyle, but it’s definitely possible.”

If you are obese or overweight you will get diabetes. Weight is a risk factor for diabetes, but there are other factors, such as family history, that also play an important part. Most overweight people never develop type 2 diabetes, and there are many normal-weight type 2 diabetics.

If you have diabetes, you can’t do too much exercise or you might get a low blood sugar attack. If you are on insulin or a medication that increases insulin production in the body, you have to balance exercise, insulin, and diet. However, many type 2 diabetics are not on insulin, and the most commonly used oral medications for diabetes, such as metformin and sitagliptin, don’t cause low blood sugar at all, no matter how much exercise you do. In fact, exercise is crucial to controlling diabetes, along with weight loss.

Insulin will harm you. Dr. Stratton-Smith often hears “I don’t want to be on insulin because as soon as Grandma went on insulin she died.” Insulin is a lifesaver, but it’s also difficult to manage for many people. It’s crucial to test your blood sugar many times a day when you’re on insulin to avoid low blood sugar reactions that will harm you.

Diabetes means your body doesn’t produce enough insulin. This is true in type 1 diabetes, where the pancreas stops producing insulin completely. People who develop type 2 diabetes, which is the most common type of diabetes, usually have sufficient insulin, at least when they are first diagnosed. Their problem is that the insulin doesn’t work properly. It fails to cause the cells in their bodies to absorb glucose from the food they eat. Eventually their pancreas may stop producing enough insulin, so they will need injections.

Diabetes means having to give yourself shots, and I can’t stand needles. Only people who are on injectable medications need to deal with needles.  Today there are insulin pens that don’t require you to inject yourself and blood sugar meters that make drawing blood painless. Plus, there are many new medications that control diabetes without needles or risk of low blood sugar reactions.

Eating too much sugar causes diabetes. Diet does not cause diabetes, although there is recent evidence that drining a lot of sugared drinks can increase your risk of developing diabetes if you are already at risk. And while sugar per se does not cause diabetes, it does contribute to obesity, which is a major cause of diabetes. Obese people tend to eat a lot of sweets. But they also eat a lot of junk food and other high-calorie foods. Sugar is bad for diabetics because it elevates blood sugar, but so are foods that break down quickly into glucose in the blood, such as plain pasta, white bread, noodles, and white rice.

I know when my sugar is high or low. You can’t rely on how you’re feeling when it comes to your blood sugar level. You may feel shaky, lightheaded, and dizzy because your blood sugar is low, or you may be coming down with the flu. You may urinate a lot because your glucose is high, or because you have a bladder infection. The longer you have diabetes, the less accurate those feelings become. The only way to know for sure is to check your blood sugar.

People with diabetes can’t eat sweets. There is no reason type 2 diabetics can’t eat sweets as part of their healthy meal plan. When eaten in small portions or as a special treat, diabetics can eat whatever they want. The problem is that most of us eat too much of what we like. Diabetes doesn’t mean you can never have a piece of cake again, just a smaller piece, and you’ll have to be careful about what you eat with that piece of cake. Dessert a couple of times of a month is OK, but not every night.

You are more likely to get colds or the flu if you have diabetes. Diabetes does not make you more vulnerable to contagious illnesses. However, you should get your flu shots, because diabetics are more likely to suffer serious complications from the flu.

If you are put on insulin that means you didn’t take proper care of your diabetes. When you’re first diagnosed, your blood sugar may be controlled adequately by diet, exercise, and/or oral medications that help your body absorb glucose. Eventually, however, your pancreas may stop producing enough insulin. At this point you will need insulin injections. This is not your fault, but simply the progress of the disease.