It’s estimated that more than
But despite the number of people living with diabetes, it’s a complex disease that’s not fully understood by all. A clear understanding of this disease, however, can help clear up a lot of the stigma surrounding it.
Here’s a look at common myths about diabetes.
Science has confirmed that diabetes is a non-communicable disease, so it’s not contagious — nor is a diagnosis your fault.
Fact #1: How do you get diabetes?
Insulin is a hormone that helps the body regulate blood sugar or glucose.
With type 1 diabetes, the body doesn’t produce insulin. In type 2 diabetes, the body doesn’t produce enough insulin or use insulin properly.
It’s unknown why some people get diabetes and others don’t. In type 1 diabetes, an overactive immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. This causes the pancreas to stop producing insulin.
It’s also unknown why the pancreas doesn’t produce sufficient insulin in those who have type 2 diabetes, though certain risk factors may contribute to insulin production.
Maybe you’ve heard that eating too many sugary treats can one day cause diabetes. This is a common myth that confuses many people, mainly because diabetes involves elevated blood sugar levels.
Sugar, however, doesn’t cause diabetes, so the disease isn’t a punishment for having a sweet tooth.
Fact #2: Diabetes isn’t about eating sugar
Insulin supplies your body’s cells with glucose to be used for energy. But sometimes, too much sugar stays in your blood.
This isn’t due to eating too much sugary foods, but rather your body‘s inability to use insulin properly, which in turn causes a blood sugar spike.
But while eating sugar doesn’t directly cause diabetes, it can increase your risk. Overconsumption of sugar can lead to weight gain, and more weight is a risk factor for developing diabetes.
After a diagnosis, some people assume that all sugar is off-limits, and they deprive themselves in order to better manage their blood sugar.
Other times, family members who are trying to be helpful may monitor the sugar intake of loved ones with diabetes, which can cause stress and resentment.
Fact #3: People with diabetes can eat sugar in moderation
Managing diabetes is all about eating a balanced diet. This includes a healthy balance of protein, fruits, vegetables — and yes, even sugar.
So while someone with diabetes might have to adjust how much sugar they consume, they don’t have to adopt a strict sugar-free diet. They can sometimes have carbohydrates like:
- ice cream
Just like in people without diabetes, the key is to eat these types of foods in moderation, and try to eat more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
Sometimes, people diagnosed overweight may overconsume calories or live a less active lifestyle, which are both risk factors for diabetes.
Fact #4: Diabetes can develop in people of all sizes
Diabetes isn’t a disease that only affects certain body sizes. You can get diabetes regardless of your weight.
About 85 percent of people with type 2 diabetes are diagnosed with obesity or overweight, which means 15 percent aren’t.
While genetics is one risk factor for diabetes, it’s not the only one.
If a close family member has the disease, yes, you’re at risk too. But there are several other risk factors for diabetes that have nothing to do with family history.
Fact #5: Family history isn’t the only risk factor for diabetes
Although family history does come into play, it’s not the only factor. And the truth is, you can get diabetes if no one in your family has the disease, particularly type 2 diabetes.
Risk factors for type 2 diabetes include:
- a larger waist circumference of above 35 inches for women and above 40 inches for men
- overweight or obesity
- a history of prediabetes (when your blood sugar level is higher than normal)
Because people living with type 1 diabetes don’t produce insulin, they must take insulin injections or use an insulin pump to control their blood sugar.
Some people with type 2 diabetes also produce so little insulin that they need to take insulin. But not all people with type 2 diabetes require insulin.
Fact #6: Some people can manage their blood sugar with medications and lifestyle changes
Exercise can have a positive effect on blood sugar because it increases insulin sensitivity, allowing your muscle cells to better use insulin.
Some people also manage type 2 diabetes with dietary changes and the use of oral medication. If these measures don’t work to promote a healthy blood sugar level, insulin injections may become necessary.
Because diabetes is a common condition, some people shrug it off or downplay the potential seriousness of this disease.
Fact #7: Diabetes can cause life threatening complications
It’s important to follow your doctor’s recommendations to manage your blood sugar, such as by taking your insulin or medications, and making lifestyle changes.
High blood sugar can cause many complications, including some that are life-threatening. These include:
If you know someone with diabetes, they need your support. There’s no cure for diabetes, and a person’s condition can change or progress over time.
So even if someone doesn’t need medication for diabetes today, they might need it in the future, which can be an emotional transition.
Your support can help someone cope with this disease, whether they’re newly diagnosed or have been living with diabetes for years.
Here’s what you can do:
- Encourage healthy eating habits, but don’t nag or irritate.
- Exercise together. Go for daily walks or enjoy other activities such as swimming or biking.
- Attend doctor’s appointments with them, and take notes.
- Educate yourself about diabetes and learn how to recognize signs of low blood sugar, such as:
- Attend a local support group with them.
- Provide a listening ear and allow them to vent when needed.
Diabetes can be an often misunderstood condition. But with education and knowledge, it’s easier to understand the complexity of this disease and empathize with a loved one.
Diabetes is a serious condition without a cure, and it can develop slowly. If you or someone you love develops symptoms like increased thirst, frequent urination, or slow wound healing, see a doctor for a blood sugar check.