There are a lot of things that people believe are 'common knowledge' about diabetes and diabetics. but aren't always true.
For example, most people assume that diabetics can't eat any sugar or sugary foods because of their blood glucose level. Many people also believe that the only reason someone develops type 2 diabetes is because they're overweight. Many people even believe that diabetes can be passed between two people while they're having sex.
There are a lot of diabetes myths flying around, which can make it that much more difficult for young people with diabetes or those with prediabetes to know how to deal with their disease and stay healthy. In part because of a lack of the basic knowledge of how to manage diabetes, the World Health Organization estimates that in 2015, 1.6 million deaths were directly caused by diabetes.
Read on to get the true diabetes facts and myths that need to be busted.
Myth: You have to be born with diabetes to develop it.
There are two types of diabetes, Type 1 and Type 2.
Type 1 diabetes is something that you're born with, and is typically found and diagnosed when someone is a teenager or young adult, most commonly around the age of 14. Type 1 diabetes means that your body doesn't produce enough insulin on its own. With proper management, an individual with Type 1 diabetes can lead a perfectly healthy and normal life. Only about 5% of diabetes cases are Type 1.
The other 95% of diabetes cases are Type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is typically developed and diagnosed later in life, most commonly between the ages of 45 and 64 (Healthline). However, medical professionals are anticipating that poor lifestyle habits in younger people will lead to Type 2 diabetes being more common in younger age groups.
Type 2 diabetes is developed over time due to a combination of factors including:
- being over 45 years of age
- being from a high-risk ethnicity
- being overweight or obese
- leading an inactive lifestyle
- having vascular disease
- having high blood pressure
- having low HDL or high triglyceride levels
- having a first degree family member with diabetes
- having a history of gestational diabetes or history of delivering a baby weighing over 9 pounds
- having polycystic ovarian syndrome or other indicators of insulin resistance
- having a history of prediabetes
The good news is that many of the Type 2 risk factors are preventable with a healthy diet and exercise.
Fact: Genetics plays a role in both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.
Genetics plays a huge part in many ways. There is a certain genetic marker that makes someone more susceptible to having both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. This genetic marker is located on chromosome 6 and is an HLA (human leukocyte antigen) complex. However, having that specific HLA complex doesn't mean that you'll develop diabetes.
Another aspect of genetics that plays a huge role is your ethnicity. The likelihood that genetics or the above risk factors will develop into diabetes can increase if you're Hispanic, African American, or American Indian/Alaskan Native.
The rates of diagnosed diabetes in adults by race/ethnic background are:
- 7.4% of non-Hispanic whites
- 8.0% of Asian Americans
- 12.1% of Hispanics
- 12.7% of non-Hispanic blacks
- 15.1% of American Indians/Alaskan Natives
Myth: If you are overweight or obese, you will eventually develop Type 2 diabetes.
This isn't necessarily the case. There are several risk factors that contribute to developing Type 2 diabetes, with many of those factors involving genetics. However, if you're genetically predisposed to developing diabetes, your weight, diet, and exercise are all huge contributing factors.
Fact: If you are prediabetic or have been diagnosed with diabetes, your diet is a huge part of staying healthy.
Diabetics can eat sugar, grains, carbs, fruit, and meat, but the most important factor in someone with diabetes' diet is that it is a balanced diet, meaning not too much of any one thing, especially foods high in fat, calories, or sugar.
Recommended foods for a balanced diet for someone with diabetes include:
- Healthy carbs: fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans, peas, lentils, and low-fat dairy products
- Fiber-rich foods: fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans, peas, and lentils
- Heart-healthy fish: cod, tuna, halibut, salmon, mackerel, and sardines
- Good fats (in moderation): avocados, almonds, pecans, walnuts, olives, and canola, olive, and peanut oils
Things to avoid as much as possible are:
- Saturated fats: High-fat dairy products, beef, hot dogs, sausage, and bacon
- Trans fats: Processed food/snacks, baked goods, shortening, and margarine
- Cholesterol: High-fat dairy products, egg yolks, liver, and other organ meats
- Sodium: Aim for less than 2,300 mg of sodium daily
Source: Mayo Clinic
Myth: Diabetes is not that serious of a disease.
Diabetes can be a very serious disease if not properly managed. At the very least, low blood glucose levels lead to decreased energy and fatigue. Prolonged lack of treatment can lead to kidney damage, nerve damage, heart disease, and stroke, and lack of consciousness (Healthline).
Fact: A healthy diet, exercise, and insulin (if your doctor prescribes it) can make your diabetes manageable and allow you to live a normal life.
The most important factor in diabetes management is controlling your blood glucose levels. Blood glucose levels affect everything from your energy level to kidney function to gum disease.
The primary ways to manage your blood glucose levels are with a healthy diet, exercise, staying healthy & hydrated, blood glucose testing (if needed), and medication or sometimes insulin shots.
Talk to your doctor about whether you should be checking your blood glucose level. People that may benefit from checking their blood glucose level include those:
- taking insulin
- that are pregnant
- having a hard time controlling blood glucose levels
- having low blood glucose levels
- having low blood glucose levels without the usual warning signs
- have ketones from high blood glucose levels
How to check blood glucose levels:
- After washing your hands, insert a test strip into your meter
- Use your lancing device on the side of your fingertip to get a drop of blood
- Touch and hold the edge of the test strip to the drop of blood, and wait for the result
- Your blood glucose level will appear on the meter's display
Blood glucose target ranges are determined based on a number of factors, so if your doctor determines that you need to be regularly checking your blood glucose levels, they'll let you know what your target range should be.
Source: American Diabetes Association
Your health insurance plan should have a list of covered recommended blood glucose meters and test strips.
Myth: Diabetes is can be transmitted sexually, through blood, or saliva.
Diabetes can't be 'caught' or transmitted, except through genetics from parent to child. People with diabetes can even give blood, as long as their diabetes is under control and they are on insulin or oral diabetes medication.
However, if an individual has ever used bovine (beef) insulin from the UK, they may not be eligible because of potential diseases that have been linked to beef insulin.
Fact: Contagious illnesses like the flu or a cold make your diabetes harder to control.
Getting the flu is never a good thing, but it can be especially bad for people who have diabetes, since they have a more difficult time fighting off infections. The stress that the infection puts on your body can also affect blood sugar levels.
People with diabetes can take over-the-counter medications to deal with cold or flu symptoms. However, when buying medication, make sure you're paying attention to labels and nutrition info. A lot of medicine like liquid cold/flu medications and cough drops have a lot of added sugar that will affect blood sugar levels. Make sure you're opting for sugar free medications.
In addition to keeping an eye on the medicines you're taking, you'll also want to pay extra close attention to your blood glucose levels, checking them often, as illnesses like the flu can make you tired and could mask low blood sugar levels. You also need to make sure that you're eating and drinking water consistently, even if you don't feel like eating. Put extra attention into making sure you stay hydrated if you've been throwing up or have diarrhea.
Myth: People with diabetes can't get a tattoo, exercise, or play sports.
People with diabetes can do all of those things! When get a tattoo, you'll first want to make sure that your diabetes is under control, you have a consistent treatment plan, and you should check your blood glucose level before your tattoo appointment to make sure that your levels will allow for a proper immune response. Some doctors recommend having an A1C <8% while some Certified Diabetes Educators recommend an A1C <7% prior to getting a tattoo.
Before your tattoo session, make sure you've let your doctor know that you're planning on getting a tattoo, and make sure your artist knows that you have diabetes. Your tattoo artist will be able to provide the best instructions for how to safely heal your tattoo, how to keep it from getting infected, and how long your tattoo may take to heal, which could be up to double the time it takes a tattoo to heal on someone without diabetes.
As far as exercising and playing sports, being active is a big part of managing your diabetes. Regular levels of exercise, like taking walks around the block or a traditional yoga class are positive forms of exercise that will help you keep your weight down and your diabetes under control.
More strenuous forms of exercise, like playing professional sports or training to run a marathon, are just as possible for those with diabetes. As with anything, you just need to keep a close eye on your blood glucose levels and listen to your body.
Low blood sugar can cause sweating and fatigue, which can be masked by a good workout, so make sure you're monitoring your blood glucose levels frequently, and work with your doctor to determine what a good range is for your blood glucose levels while you're exercising.
On the day of a big event, make sure you've eaten a good breakfast, snack frequently, and stay well hydrated. Don't let let high blood sugar levels fueled by adrenaline kid you into thinking that you don't need to eat (The Diabetes Council).
Most of all, don't let you diabetes hold you back from working to become a great athlete. Some notable professional athletes with diabetes include: Jay Cutler, former Dolphins Quarterback who played in the NFL for 11 years; Adam Morrison, former Los Angeles Lakers forward who played professional basketball for 6 years; Ron Santo, third baseman for Chicago for 14 years and inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2012; Smokin’ Joe Frazier, former Olympian and heavyweight boxer for 16 years (currently people with diabetes aren't permitted to participate in professional boxing, although many are working to change this rule).
Myth: Diabetes can be cured.
Someone who has diabetes will always have diabetes - there is no 'cure'. However, diabetes can go into 'remission', meaning that the body doesn't show any signs of having the disease. There are several types of remission, but all involve having lower-than-diabetic blood glucose levels without medication after one year. Prolonged remission is when blood glucose levels have been lower-than-diabetic for more than 5 years.
Even if someone has been in remission for 20 years, they still have diabetes. Remission requires dedication to a healthy lifestyle, including diet and exercise, and appropriately taking any and all medication that your doctor recommends until they say you can stop. Attempting remission and stopping medication should only be a decision made by your doctor. Until they say otherwise, all medication should be taken as recommended.
Myth: If you have prediabetes, there's nothing you can do to stop from developing Type 2 diabetes.
Prediabetes is when your body has high blood glucose levels, but those levels aren't high enough yet to be considered diabetes. When you've been diagnosed with prediabetes, the best thing to do is immediately change your lifestyle. The good news is that prediabetes is reversible if the correct steps are taken.
Lifestyle changes you'll want to make as quickly as possible are to correct your diet and get more exercise. Ea healthier foods, or better yet adopt a diet like the one mentioned earlier in this blog post. Cut out sugars and high-calorie foods as much as possible and focus on eating healthy carbs like fruit and vegetables. You'll also need to keep a close eye on cholesterol levels and cut out any high-cholesterol foods. Ensure you're getting some form of physical activity once a day, even if that just means walking around the block.
The Stats on Diabetes in New York
Fact: 8.2% of the adult population of the state of New York was diagnosed with diabetes in 2015.
Another fact: Almost 23% of the population of New York over the age of 65 was diagnosed with diabetes in 2015 (CDC).
Fortunately, you or your family member doesn't have to become one of these statistics. With help from your doctor, diabetes is a manageable disease, and Type 2 diabetes can often be prevented if the right habits are adopted early.