An estimated 30 million people in the U.S. have type 2 diabetes. According to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly one quarter of those people don’t even know they have it. It’s possible they don’t know the symptoms, or don’t want to see a doctor. But here’s a startling projection: By 2050, as many as one in every three U.S. residents will be affected by the disease. Here, Duke Health endocrinologist Jennifer Green, MD, tackles five widespread myths about this common disease.
1. 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 are overweight or obese, regardless of family history. Women who have 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.
2. Eating Too Much Sugar Causes Diabetes
It’s an easy target, but sugar itself 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 all together.
3. People with Diabetes Shouldn’t Eat Carbohydrates or Sugary Foods
Carbs get a get a bad rap. The truth is, they’re an important building block of nutrition for everyone, whether or not 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 best to include these foods in your meals.
4. It’s Best to Avoid Using Medicines to Treat Diabetes for as Long as Possible
The most important thing a patient can do when diagnosed with diabetes is control blood sugar. Left unchecked, high blood sugars can cause permanent organ damage.
With some exceptions, most people will need medications or often a combination of drugs to achieve and maintain good blood sugar levels over time.
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 necessarily how you get there. This is about protecting your most important asset – your health.
5. Only People with Very Severe Diabetes Need to Take Insulin
This is possibly the most common and most 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 thought the insulin was to blame.
Insulin is actually a very effective way to keep blood sugars under control and protect your body from uncontrolled diabetes, and it has come a long way. With many new options on the market, you may not have to worry about staying home so you can be near the fridge when it’s time for an injection. If your doctor has recommended insulin therapy, ask about ways you can fit the taking the medication into your life—instead of the other way around.