Last week I started doing a class called Live Well, Eat Well, Be Active With Diabetes (LEAD) with a group of ladies who have Type 2 Diabetes. My older sister has Type 1, and diabetes has always interested me. I’ve been exposed to diabetes in a number of ways: family history, extension work teaching LEAD, I have a Master’s degree in nutrition, and I did a 1200 hour dietetic internship to be a Registered Dietitian. During my internship, I was blessed to spend 2 weeks at the Harold Hamm Diabetes Center. I wanted to share some truth about diabetes and dispel some myths around diabetes today- and there are many people who hold these myths as pure fact.
There are 3 main types of diabetes: Type 1, Type 2, and Gestational. In Type 1, the pancreas has completely lost the ability to make insulin. Insulin is needed to move glucose from the blood stream into the body cells for use as energy. People with Type 1 must give themselves insulin in a shot or through an insulin pump. In Type 2, the body’s cells have stopped recognizing the insulin (insulin resistance) and even though insulin is present, the glucose still cannot enter the cell for use as energy. People with Type 2 may be advised by a doctor to manage their disease with diet and exercise, oral medication, insulin, or a combination. Gestational diabetes is when the insulin resistance happens during pregnancy, and was caused by the stress of being pregnant. Women with gestational diabetes should be monitored by a doctor and should speak with a registered dietitian because uncontrolled diabetes in pregnancy can lead to unwanted complications in pregnancy, fetal development and child birth.
Myth #1: Diabetes is caused by eating too much sugar
The truth is, diabetes is a genetic disease. Eating sugar does not cause it. Eating too much sugar can complicate things for those who have diabetes, but eating sugar will not cause a person to develop diabetes.
Myth #2: Diabetes is caused by being overweight
Diabetes is a genetic disease. Being overweight definitely is a risk factor for Type 2 Diabetes, but is not a sole cause. Lifestyle choices and controllable risk factors, such as being overweight can possibly bring the disease about at an earlier age, but cannot cause diabetes on its own. That genetic component must be there… and keeping a healthy weight is not a fail-safe to prevent diabetes either. Your weight status cannot cause or prevent diabetes if your genetics say you’ll have it. However, your weight status and other lifestyle factors can make the disease easier or more difficult to manage.
Myth #3: People with Diabetes can never eat sweets
People with diabetes can eat sweets, and like everyone else, they should use moderation. The difference is, someone who is insulin dependent will need to make sure they know exactly how many carbohydrates they got in their sweet treat so they can dose themselves accurately with insulin.
Myth #4: Diabetes isn’t a serious disease
While people with diabetes can do pretty much anything anyone else can do, diabetes can be a life threatening condition. If diabetes is not well-manged, a person could become extremely ill and/or even die. More people die each year from diabetes than from breast cancer and AIDS combined. Diabetes also puts a person at a much higher risk for heart attack.
Myth #5: If a person with diabetes has high blood glucose levels, they aren’t taking care of themselves
While it is extremely important for people with diabetes to monitor and control blood glucose levels, it isn’t always easy. There are things out of our control that can affect blood glucose levels. Illness such as viruses, colds, the flu can wreak havoc on blood glucose levels. Also stress, sleep patterns, and exercise can raise and lower blood glucose levels.
If you have any questions about diabetes management, ask a dietitian or Certified Diabetes Educator (which I am not) or check out www.diabetes.org.