An estimated 23.6 million people in the United States – 8 percent of the population – have diabetes. While diabetes is a common term, many have misconceptions of exactly what it is and how one can acquire, and treat, diabetes. To dispel some common myths, let’s first review the facts.
Diabetes is a chronic disease in which the levels of glucose – the blood sugars needed for energy – become elevated because the pancreas is not producing an adequate amount of insulin to regulate them. There are three main types of diabetes.
• Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease – the result of the body’s immune system attacking and destroying the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. The individual must take insulin daily to live. Type 1 diabetes develops most often in children and young adults, but can appear at any age. Scientists do not know exactly what causes type 1 diabetes but believe genetics and environmental factors, possibly viruses, are involved.
• Type 2 diabetes is the most common form. Ninety percent of people with diabetes have type 2. This form of diabetes is associated with older age, being overweight, family history of diabetes, previous history of gestational diabetes, physical inactivity and ethnicity. Type 2 diabetics manage glucose levels through diet, medication and insulin.
• Gestational diabetes develops only during pregnancy. Women who have had gestational diabetes have a 20 to 50 percent chance of developing type 2 diabetes within five to 10 years.
Common symptoms of diabetes include:
• Increased thirst and urination
• Constant hunger
• Weight loss
• Blurred vision
• Extreme fatigue.
The fasting plasma glucose test is the preferred test for diagnosing diabetes. Only your doctor can diagnose diabetes and tailor an individual treatment plan with a health care team, which may include an endocrinologist, dietician and other specialist.
Myths about diabetes
Myth: Diabetes is not a serious disease.
Fact: Diabetes causes more deaths a year than breast cancer and AIDS combined. Two out of three people with diabetes die from heart disease or stroke. However, you can prevent or delay diabetes complications if you manage your diabetes properly.
Myth: Overweight or obese people will eventually develop type 2 diabetes.
Fact: Being overweight is only one risk factor for developing this disease. Most overweight people never develop type 2 diabetes, and many people with type 2 diabetes are at a normal weight or only moderately overweight.
Myth: People with diabetes should eat special diabetic foods.
Fact: Diabetic foods generally offer no special benefit. A healthy meal plan for people with diabetes is generally the same as a healthy diet for anyone – low in fat, moderate in salt and sugar, and based on whole grain foods, vegetables and fruit.
Myth: People with diabetes should only eat small amounts of starchy foods.
Fact: Portion size is the key. Whole grain breads, cereals, pasta, rice and starchy vegetables like potatoes, yams, peas and corn can be included in your meals and snacks. You and your health care team can figure out the right amount for you.
Myth: People with diabetes can’t eat sweets or chocolate.
Fact: No foods are off limits for people with diabetes. If eaten as part of a healthy meal plan, or combined with exercise, sweets and desserts can be still be part of your life.
Myth: You can catch diabetes from someone else.
Fact: Diabetes is not contagious. Genetics and lifestyle play a part, particularly with type 2 diabetes.
Myth: People with diabetes are more likely to get colds and other illnesses.
Fact: People with diabetes are no more likely to become ill than those who don’t have diabetes. However, being ill can make diabetes more difficult to control, and people with diabetes who do get the flu are more likely than others to develop serious complications.
Myth: If your doctor says you need to start using insulin, you’re failing to take care of your diabetes properly.
Fact: For most people, type 2 diabetes is a progressive disease. When first diagnosed, many can keep their blood glucose at a healthy level with oral medications. But over time, the body gradually produces less insulin and eventually insulin may be required.
Myth: Because fruit is natural sugar, it’s OK to eat as much as you like.
Fact: Fruit is a healthy food, and because fruits contain carbohydrates, they need to be included in your meal plan. But no food is without limits. Talk to your dietitian about the amount, frequency and types of fruits you should eat.