Diabetes Myths & Facts
There are a number of myths about diabetes that are all too commonly reported as facts. These misrepresentations of diabetes can sometimes be harmful and lead to an unfair stigma around the condition.
Uniquely among health conditions, uninformed family members, friends, and even strangers think they know all about your diabetes and are quick to judge you, give you advice, or ask whether you can do, whatever the activity under discussion is.
Diabetes information is widely available, both from healthcare professionals and the Internet, but not all of it is true.
It can be hard to know what is accurate, so this page aims to highlight the top twenty of the most common diabetes myths.
Myth #1 Diabetes is not a serious disease
FACT: Diabetes causes more deaths a year than breast cancer and AIDS combined. Having diabetes nearly doubles your chance of having a heart attack. The good news is that good diabetes control can reduce your risks for diabetes complications.
Myth #2 Diabetes is caused by eating too much sugar
FACT: Type 1 diabetes is caused by genetics and unknown factors that trigger its onset; type 2 is caused by genetics and lifestyle factors. Being overweight increases your risk for developing type 2, and a diet high in calories from any source contributes to weight gain. Research has shown that sugary drinks are linked to type 2 diabetes.
Myth #3 People with diabetes can’t eat sugar
FACT: Sugar, in any volume, cannot cause diabetes. When a person has diabetes, the body doesn’t deal well with high levels of sugar, but that doesn’t bar sugar. In fact, every cell in the body lives on glucose. It’s the energy source of life, and the body converts all food to glucose for fuel.
How much sugar can people with diabetes eat? That depends on the person and the medications he or she takes. But sugar in no way is banned from modern diabetes meal planning.
Long ago, people with diabetes were told not to eat foods containing sugar. We now know that people with diabetes can consume sugar safely, but this restriction has remained the most widely held diabetes myth. Myths that start as gospel truths are the most tenacious. People with diabetes can eat sugar.
Myth #4 Insulin causes weight gain
FACT: The weight gain myth is complicated by the fact that many people gain weight after starting insulin therapy. The reason for this is debated even among diabetes experts, and while some experts believe insulin in itself can cause weight gain, there’s a more likely explanation. When blood sugar is elevated, glucose is excreted in the urine, eliminating some of the calories consumed. Once insulin treatment is begun, those calories stay in the body, and if the patient consumes more calories than he or she burns, he or she will gain weight.
Myth #5 Type 2 diabetes only affects fat people
FACT: Whilst type 2 diabetes is often associated with being overweight and obese by the media, it is patently untrue that type 2 diabetes only affects overweight people. Around 20% of people with type 2 diabetes are of a normal weight, or underweight.
Myth #6. Diabetes doesn’t run in my family, so I’m safe
FACT: Family history is only one of several risk factors for type 2 diabetes.
Myth #7 Gestational diabetes is not risky
FACT: Many belief gestational diabetes doesn’t need to be taken seriously, as it will disappear after a woman gives birth. However, the fact is that it puts both mother and child at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
Myth #8 Insulin shots hurt
FACT: Some shots do hurt, including a number of common vaccines. Some even hurt more the next day. But insulin shots are different. Modern needles are thin and short, with beveled tips that are coated with lubricants.These needles are injected into fat layers under the skin on parts of the body with few nerve endings. Fingersticks are much more painful than insulin shots and, done correctly, fingersticks are barely noticeable.
Myth #9 It’s not safe for people with diabetes to exercise
FACT: There are no physical limitations imposed by diabetes — in fact, a team of Type 1 cyclists won a transcontinental race. This myth no doubt originated from the fact that a risk of low blood sugar is associated with increased physical activity. If someone taking insulin is much more active than usual, a low sugar level can result. But this doesn’t bar physical activity, even extreme activity. Activity merely needs to be balanced with medicine and carbohydrate intake to maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
Myth #10 People with diabetes have limited employment options
FACT: Diabetes is an inconvenience, not a disability. While we’ve yet to have an astronaut with diabetes, it’s only a matter of time. People with diabetes have done amazing things, filled myriad roles, and worked in nearly every vocation — including Olympic medalists; stars of stage, screen, and music; pilots and racecar drivers; political leaders; soldiers; journalists; mountain climbers; and Supreme Court justices.
Myth #11 Women with Type 1 diabetes cannot safely have children
FACT: At one time, it was the medical standard of care to advise women with diabetes, especially those with Type 1, not to conceive. Today, while it is considered a high-risk pregnancy that should be managed by a team of health-care experts, thousands of women with diabetes safely deliver healthy babies every year.
Myth #12 People with diabetes have sexual dysfunction
FACT: Like many other parts of the diabetes universe, there’s a difference between diabetes and diabetes control. Simply having diabetes is the leading cause of nothing. But a person with poorly controlled diabetes and high blood sugar can experience erectile dysfunction, vaginal dryness, or reduced libido.
Myth #13 People with diabetes should only eat diabetic food
FACT: Diabetic food is one of the most common myths of the last ten years. The label ‘diabetic’ is often used on sweets foods. Often sugar alcohols, or other sweeteners, will be used instead of sugar. Diabetic food will often still affect blood glucose levels, is expensive, and may also cause adverse side effects.
Myth #14 People with diabetes go blind and lose their legs
FACT: Diabetes is a leading cause of blindness and also causes many amputations each year. However, those people with diabetes that control blood pressure, glucose, weight and quit smoking all increase their chances of remaining complication free.
Blindness and amputation are therefore preventable and the vast majority of people with diabetes will avoid blindness and amputation, particularly if annual diabetic health checks are attended each year.
Myth #15 People with diabetes are dangerous drivers
FACT: This myth is based around an inaccurate generalisation. The main danger of driving for people with diabetes is if hypoglycemia occurs.
However, hypoglycemia is a preventable state and the vast majority of people with diabetes at risk of hypos exercise care to avoid hypos taking place whilst driving.
Statistics show that diabetics are no less safe on the road than anyone else with significant accidents being attributed to hypoglycemia affecting less 0.2% of drivers treated with insulin. However, the myth that people with diabetes are dangerous drivers is ongoing.
Myth #16 People with diabetes are more likely to be ill
FACT: People with diabetes are not more likely to have colds or other illnesses. The significance of illness for people with diabetes is that it can make the management of blood glucose levels more difficult which can increase the severity of an illness or infection. Prevention of illness is particularly important and therefore flu jabs are advisable and mostly free.
Myth #17 You’ll know if you have diabetes by your symptoms
FACT: Not always. Type 2 diabetes often goes undiagnosed because it usually has few or no symptoms when it first develops. No one can accurately guess what his or her blood sugar is by feel. While lows have a distinct set of symptoms, these warning signs provide no reliable indication of how low you actually are, and while some people feel vaguely ill if their sugar goes high quickly, these same symptoms rarely are present when sugar creeps higher over a long period of time. The only way to truly know your blood sugar number is to get out your meter and test.
Myth #18 Obesity causes diabetes
FACT: The fact is that while excessive weight can serve as a trigger to diabetes onset (as can age), there’s a lot more to diabetes than weight alone. The likelihood for diabetes lies deep in the genes — to develop diabetes you must be genetically predisposed. If you are predisposed, keeping trim and eating a healthy diet delays — but does not prevent — diabetes. This myth comes from uninformed observation. While it’s true many people who have diabetes are overweight, people sometimes make causal connections that aren’t there.
Myth #19 Alcohol is off-limits
FACT: Moderate drinking — meaning no more than one drink a day for women and two for men — is safe for most people with diabetes. But it’s a good idea to talk it over with your doctor first.
Some medications, like insulin or those that help increase insulin levels, can make you prone to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Alcohol may make that worse.
Also, your body digests alcohol differently from sugar, and the effects aren’t always felt right away. A drink you had at night could make your blood sugar drop the next morning.
Myth #20 Diabetes is contagious
FACT: Something of a classic playground myth, diabetes cannot be caught off someone else. Diabetes is categorised as being a non-communicable illness meaning it cannot be passed on by sneezing, through touch, nor via blood or any other person to person means.
The only way in which diabetes can be passed on is from parents to their own children but even this is only a genetic likelihood of diabetes and not the condition itself.
Over to you
Which of these myths is shocking, revealing or hilarious to you? What other diabetes facts are you not sure of? Leave it in the comment below.