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You can do this, but not that: Mythbusting diabetes


Despite the fact that more than 29 million people in the United States has diabetes, there are a lot of misconceptions and stereotypes that accompany this disease. Perhaps due to a lack of awareness and education, the facts of diabetes seem to be shrouded in mystery for many of us—particularly when it comes to the differences between Type 1 and Type 2. And according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), one in four people with diabetes don’t know they have it.

We’ve rounded up some common myths and misconceptions associated with diabetes and the facts that debunk them. Knowledge is power!

Myth: Diabetes is only for kids and overweight people

Fact: Type 1 diabetes was previously referred to as “juvenile diabetes” because so many of the cases were diagnosed in children and young adults. However, it is possible to develop Type 1 at any age. The causes of Type 1 are unpredictable and unknown, but it is thought to be linked to genetics and other environmental factors.

Type 2 diabetes is caused by genetics and lifestyle factors; poor diet and lack of exercise are common risks associated with Type 2, but being overweight alone is not a direct link.

Myth: Diabetics can’t have sugar

Fact: If eaten as part of a healthy meal plan, diabetics are not banned from eating desserts. In fact, they are no more limited than any other individual on a healthy diet. And many products aimed at diabetics as being “dietetic” and “sugar free” can still raise glucose levels and have a “laxative effect” because of the sugar alcohols. We don’t know about you, but that does not sound like a fun Friday night. So when you think “sugar,” think smart: Only consume sugar in recommended moderation.

Myth: Type 2 diabetes is not reversible

Fact: While Type 1 diabetes cannot be reversed (but can be properly managed), Type 2 diabetes can be reversible in many cases. “You can change your outcome by changing your lifestyle,” says Rebecca Russell, MPH, RD, community wellness and diabetes program director at Adventist Health Central Valley Network. “It didn’t happen overnight, so you can’t change it overnight—it takes a lifetime commitment of positive changes to reverse it—but it can be done.”

Myth: People with diabetes can’t play sports/exercise

Fact: Exercise, when properly monitored, is actually good for both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetics. In fact, exercise is one of the key components of preventing Type 2 diabetes. Along with a healthy diet and an action plan from your health care provider, exercise should be part of your routine. So go ahead and spring for that new gym membership you’ve been thinking about.

Need some inspiration? There have also been many famous athletes with diabetes, including Olympic gold medalist Gary Hall Jr. and New York City ballerina Zippora Karz.

Myth: Insulin pumps cure Type 1 diabetes

Fact: Currently there is no cure for Type 1 diabetes. While insulin pumps can help make the user’s lifestyle more convenient when it comes to managing his or her Type 1 diabetes, it does not reverse the disorder. These pumps deliver insulin doses to ensure the user maintains proper glucose levels throughout the day—but they are not for everyone, and must be closely monitored.

Myth: Diabetics are more likely to get colds and the flu

Fact: People with diabetes are just as likely as anyone else to catch a cold, the flu or any other illness—however, they are three times more likely to be hospitalized from the flu and its complications. Having the flu can also have a negative impact on blood glucose levels in folks with Type 1 and Type 2.  The CDC recommends getting routine flu shots and sticking to specific sick day guidelines provided by your doctor to ensure you stay in tip-top shape during cold and flu season.

Myth: Diabetes can’t be prevented

Fact: Type 1 diabetes cannot be predicted or prevented, but Type 2 diabetes typically has an indicator; prediabetes is a warning sign that indicates the individual’s blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough to rank a full diagnoses of Type 2.

According to Jodie Rodriguez, RD, CDE at Sonora Regional Medical Center, prediabetes education is a crucial part in shaping the future of a Type 2 diagnosis. Her team is currently working on a new prevention program, along with a curriculum provided by the CDC, to help those with prediabetes to turn their diagnosis around before it becomes full-blown Type 2. Rodriguez expects that by 2018, prediabetes will be a diagnosis covered by insurance. “By recognizing prediabetes as a covered diagnosis, we can really tone it down,” says Rodriguez. “We can push the diagnosis out or even avoid it altogether.”

Diabetes is a part of life for many Americans, but there are many misconceptions surrounding Type 1 and Type 2. With proper education, diet, physical activity and communication with your health care team, diabetes can be managed—and in some Type 2 cases, reversed.

For more information about diabetes, check out these resources:

Adventist Health

Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

American Diabetes Association

Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF)