An estimated 30 million people in the U.S. have type 2 diabetes, but according to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly one-quarter of those people don’t know they have it. It’s possible they don’t know the symptoms or don’t want to see a doctor. By 2050, as many as one in every three U.S. residents will be affected. Here, Duke Health endocrinologist Jennifer Green, MD, tackles five widespread myths about diabetes.
Myth: No One in My Family Has Diabetes, so I Can’t Get It
Having a close family member with type 2 diabetes does put you at increased risk for developing the condition. But the risk of diabetes goes up with age and is higher in people with heart disease, high blood pressure, and who have excess weight or obesity, regardless of family history. Women who delivered babies who weighed nine pounds or more are also at a higher risk of developing the disease.
Although you might not be able to change your family history or age, you can practice a healthy lifestyle to cut your risk.
Myth: Eating too Much Sugar Causes Diabetes
It’s an easy target, but sugar isn’t the culprit. The real risks are weight gain and inactivity. We gain weight when we eat more calories than our body needs. A portion of those extra calories might come from sugar, but it’s not directly to blame.
To reduce your risk, it’s more important to match your calorie intake to your body’s needs, rather than just cutting sugar out altogether.
Myth: People with Diabetes Shouldn’t Eat Carbohydrates or Sugary Foods
Carbs get a bad rap. The truth is, they’re an important building block of nutrition for everyone, whether they have diabetes. People with diabetes can safely include carbohydrates (and to a lesser extent, sugars) in their meals.
However, it’s important to plan ahead to avoid sudden changes in your blood sugars. One approach might be to eat about the same amount of carbohydrates at each meal. A nutritionist or diabetes nurse educator can help you figure out how to include these foods in your meals.
Myth: It’s Best to Avoid Using Medicines to Treat Diabetes for as Long as Possible
The most important thing a person with diabetes can do is control their blood sugar. Left unchecked, high blood sugar can cause permanent organ damage.
With some exceptions, most people will need more than one medication to maintain good blood sugar levels over time. Some medications have been shown to clearly reduce the risks of cardiovascular and kidney problems and should be taken by anyone with or at high risk for these conditions.
Even though two out of five Americans are expected to develop type 2 diabetes in their lifetimes, we know some patients still face a sense of stigma about taking medication. I remind my patients that it’s the end result that matters most, not how you get there. This is about protecting your most important asset – your health.
Myth: Only People with Very Severe Diabetes Need to Take Insulin
This is possibly the most common and dangerous diabetes myth. Before we discovered how important it is to control blood sugar, doctors tended to wait a very long time before prescribing insulin.
Often, patients had been subjected to high blood sugar for such a long time that their bodies developed serious complications such as kidney failure, amputations, or even blindness.
Because insulin was prescribed after medical complications arose, many patients and their families associated insulin with a downturn in health. Some even believed that insulin was to blame.
Insulin is actually a very effective way to keep blood sugars under control and protect your body from uncontrolled diabetes. With many new options on the market, you may not have to stay home, near the fridge when it’s time for an injection. If your doctor recommended insulin therapy, ask about ways you can fit the taking the medication into your life—instead of the other way around.