Diabetes is a medical condition with treatments grounded in science and proven over time. Nevertheless, there are a number of myths or misconceptions about the disease that continue to swirl around the diabetes community. Some of these falsehoods border on the ridiculous. Others, however, end up spreading inaccurate information about diabetes than can be dangerous to anyone who takes it to heart.
In this post we’ll look at some of the top misconceptions regarding both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes and provide a nice dose of the truth that exists behind them. There are more than 34 million Americans living with diabetes, not to mention countless more in the prediabetes phase who are at high risk for developing the disease.
If we’re a community that is committed to learning more about the disease and helping people better manage their diabetes, it’s important that we start with the facts. So, here are a few things you might have heard about diabetes that aren’t at all accurate.
Top 10 Diabetes Myths and Misconceptions
Diabetes is contagious
Let’s go ahead and start with one of the more absurd myths. Those of us currently living with diabetes know that the disease is not contagious. In fact, it is medically classified as a non-communicable illness. Still, there are people out there who believe that it can be “given” to others like the common cold or passed on through bodily fluids. We know it can’t. File this one under “L” for laughable. It’s not even a little bit true.
Eating sugar causes diabetes
No, eating sugar does not cause diabetes. The confusion may stem from the fact that diabetes is directly related to blood glucose or “blood sugar”. When we eat food, it is converted into glucose. This is a good thing because glucose is a source of energy for the body. However, it requires a hormone called insulin to help it enter the cells where it is transformed into energy. In someone with diabetes, the body either does not produce enough insulin or cannot use what it does produce effectively. The result is a gradual build-up of glucose in the bloodstream, which is eventually diagnosed as diabetes. However, eating sugar didn’t cause the disease. That’s not to say you can’t eat too much sugar. An excess amount of sugar can lead you to become overweight, which elevates your risk for diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is not all that serious
This is a dangerous misconception. Type 2 diabetes is a very serious condition that, if left untreated, can lead to major health complications, including heart disease, kidney disease, nerve damage and more. This myth may be the result of one positive attribute of Type 2 diabetes, which is that there are lifestyle choices you can make to help control your blood sugar and better manage the disease. There’s a lot about living with Type 2 diabetes that is entirely in your control. That’s a good thing. But to treat Type 2 diabetes as anything other than a serious condition is a grave mistake. Testing blood sugar regularly, eating right, exercising, and following your doctor-prescribed insulin and medication plan, are responsibilities you should never take lightly.
People with diabetes can’t eat sweets.
This is one of those “yes” and “no” myths. It’s very true that people with diabetes have to be very careful about how much sugar they consume. Sweets can elevate blood sugar dramatically, which is not diabetic friendly. However, if done in careful moderation, there’s no reason someone with diabetes can’t enjoy the occasional indulgence.
People with diabetes get sick more often.
Nope. Not true. People with diabetes can get sick just like anyone else, but they are no more likely to catch a cold or flu than people without the disease. Here’s the caveat. People with diabetes can experience more severe reactions to illnesses such as the flu, so that’s a consideration. Additionally, getting sick can make it more difficult to control blood sugar, which is why it should be monitored even more closely if you have diabetes and get sick.
People with diabetes can’t eat pasta, bread, beer, or carb-loaded foods.
Once again, there is a kernel of truth to this one. Carbs turn into sugar after being eaten, which can elevate blood glucose levels. So it is important for anyone with diabetes to carefully measure their carb intake. According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), when it comes to carbs the key is portion control.
Type 2 diabetes only affects obese people
It’s true that being overweight greatly contributes to the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. In fact, losing weight is one of the best ways to reduce your risk if you haven’t been diagnosed yet. It’s also one of the best ways to control your diabetes if you have been diagnosed. However, about 20% of all Type 2 diabetics are not overweight at all, so while there is a definite connection between weight and Type 2 diabetes, it’s not an absolute.
Diabetics should not play sports
This one is actually the direct opposite of the truth. Physical activity is critical for people living with diabetes. It helps control blood sugar. It contributes to weight loss. It improves cardiovascular health. Perhaps this rumor got started because those with diabetes are at some risk for hypoglycemic episodes (low blood sugar) when active. This can cause feelings of dizziness, which might be a concern for some sports like mountain climbing. That being said, properly managed diabetes minimizes the risk and, as long as your doctor gives you the green light, you shouldn’t feel limited from any activity you love.
There are a lot of jobs people with Diabetes can’t do.
There are a handful of jobs that might be off limits due to having diabetes. Again, there are risks of experiencing hypo or hyperglycemia, which can cause temporary dizziness, confusion, irritability, and other reactions. For this reason, the armed forces will not allow those with diabetes in certain positions, such as on the front line of a conflict. However, with today’s diabetes advancements, such as continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) and insulin pumps, there are very few jobs out of reach.
People with diabetes are limited when it comes to leading full lives.
We started on a ridiculous one and we’ll end with an equally silly myth. Today’s testing and treatment advancements make living with diabetes easier now than it ever was for generations past. There are pro athletes, Hollywood superstars, and business leaders galore living with diabetes. Yes, this is a disease that must be managed on a daily basis, and there’s no question that it makes life a little more challenging. However, there’s absolutely no reason you can’t live a full, healthy, and rewarding life with diabetes. It just takes a little extra effort to stay on top of things. Do so and you’ll have every opportunity to get the most out of each day.