BASICS: Separating Facts from Fiction
Myths about diabetes abound, and they could get in the way of your taking proper action to keep the disease under control. Here, we help you and those in your care smash 10 popular misperceptions.
1. Diabetes is diabetes. There's only one kind.
Diabetes is a group of diseases that doesn't allow your body to properly convert the food you eat into energy. The main types are type 1, type 2 and gestational (diabetes occurring only during pregnancy). The cause differs for each, but common to all is a high level of glucose (sugar) in the blood. Managing any type of diabetes requires balancing food, physical activity and, if needed, medications. People with type 1 diabetes (formerly juvenile onset diabetes) will need to take some form of insulin for the rest of their lives.
2. Only people with diabetes need insulin.
Everyone needs insulin, which is a hormone produced by your pancreas that allows your body to use the food you eat for the energy you need to live. People who don't have diabetes make and use the right amount. People with diabetes either don't make any or don't make enough to meet their bodies' needs. They need to balance their food and activity—and possibly take medications, which may include insulin, to get the right amount.
3. No one in my family ever had diabetes, so I can't get it.
Just because you don't know anyone in your family who had diabetes doesn't mean no one really had it. Years ago the diagnosis for diabetes was different. By today's standards, a family member might really have had diabetes and not known it. Although we see diabetes more in certain families and ethnic groups, heredity is only one contributing factor. You can get diabetes even though you don't know of anyone in your family who had it. And while there is a hereditary component for type 2 diabetes, lifestyle plays a big part in preventing it.
4. People with diabetes can't eat any sugar.
This is not true, but the amount of sugar people with diabetes can safely consume varies by individual.
Sugar is a carbohydrate and carbohydrates are one of the three main nutrients—along with proteins and fats—found in the food you eat. Carbohydrates cause your blood glucose levels to rise more than proteins and fats do, but that doesn't mean you should not eat carbohydrates.
The three main types of carbohydrates are starches, sugars and fiber. When examining food labels, you should look at the amount of total carbohydrates rather than just sugar. However, as everyone's recommended total is different, it's important to meet with a registered dietitian or certified diabetes educator. Then, together, you can design an individualized meal plan that works for you based on your size, medications, activity level and more. You can find a CDE at www.diabeteseducator.org.
5. There's nothing I can do to prevent complications of diabetes.
Research shows that complications from diabetes can be prevented. Two out of three people who have diabetes also have high blood pressure and many have high cholesterol. Most complications of diabetes are preventable by managing blood glucose and keeping blood pressure and cholesterol to near-normal levels. There also are other simple preventative measures. Even if someone in your family had complications of diabetes, it doesn't mean you will. Learn all you can about how to manage your diabetes, then put what you learn into action and you'll go a long way toward preventing complications.
6. I have "borderline diabetes."
Borderline diabetes was a term used years ago. The current terms are impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) or pre-diabetes, which refer to your having higher-than-normal blood glucose that is not high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes. If your fasting blood glucose is higher than 100mg/dl but less than 126mg/dl, you have IGT or pre-diabetes and you're at a high risk for developing type 2 diabetes, in which case your doctor will guide you as to preventative lifestyle changes.
7. People who take insulin will always have to take insulin.
Not everyone who has type 2 diabetes, gestational diabetes or some other types of diabetes needs to take insulin—but some do. Sometimes weight loss and/or some of the newer medications may allow those with type 2 diabetes to stop taking insulin—but only under the advice of their healthcare team. Women with gestational diabetes don't usually have to take insulin after the baby is born but may need to later in life. And people who have type 1 diabetes will always need to take insulin.
8. Only fat people get diabetes.
Most people who have type 2 diabetes are overweight, but many with type 1 are not. Research shows that just losing five to seven percent of your weight through healthier eating and being more active can prevent or delay getting type 2 diabetes by 58 percent. If you weigh 200 pounds, that means you need to only lose 10 to 14 pounds. If you weigh 300 pounds, that means losing 15 to 21 pounds. Doable!
9. Diabetes strips are not covered by insurance.
If you have diabetes, both Medicare and Medicaid—as well as most insurance companies—cover most of your diabetes supplies, including your meter, lancets and strips. You need a prescription for your supplies to be covered. Ask your provider, medical device company or pharmacist if you have to pay up front. In addition to the mail-order companies you see on TV, many pharmacies and medical-supply companies don't require any out-of-pocket payment. If you have private insurance, ask if your co-pay varies with the brand of strips you are using. Work with your healthcare team to make sure you get the most accurate meter that requires the least out-of-pocket co-pay for the strips.
10. There is a diabetes diet.
There is no universal "diabetes diet." People who have diabetes are encouraged to make healthy food choices just like everybody else. Whether you or the one you're caring for has diabetes, you need to understand how certain foods affect your blood glucose. It's important to meet with a CDE to learn more. Armed with knowledge, you can better balance your food, activity and medications to feel better and prevent complications of diabetes, which can only help the both of you.