Even if you don’t have diabetes, you can probably imagine how challenging it must be to live with a disease that requires such constant vigilance of your physical health. You might not immediately pick up on how mentally taxing diabetes can be, though. In fact, it’s “considered to be one of the most psychologically demanding of the chronic medical illnesses and is often associated with several psychiatric disorders,” Miami VA Medical Center experts wrote in the journal Clinical Diabetes. It might not be your first thought, but considering how much we view diabetes through a lens of shame and blame and it doesn’t seem so far-fetched after all.

You need to know what are facts and fallacies when it comes to this disease.

We don’t mean to blame you, either, for not totally getting it if you don’t have diabetes. Whether you have it, know someone who does, worry about your risk of developing it, or hardly give it any thought, you’ve likely come across confusing diabetes misinformation. To help make it all a little less complicated, here are some of the most common myths about diabetes, debunked.


Myth: Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are pretty similar.
Fact: Sorry, but no. There’s a big physiological difference, actually. Type 1 diabetes means your body doesn’t produce insulin. Everyone needs insulin; the hormone, produced by the pancreas, helps get energy in the form of glucose into our cells. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that causes the body to mistakenly attack itself, in this case destroying insulin-producing cells. Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, occurs when your body doesn’t effectively use the insulin it does make, typically called insulin resistance. You may need a little extra dose to get the job done: While everyone with type 1 diabetes needs insulin injections, only about 30% of people with type 2 require the same treatment.

Myth: People with diabetes have to use insulin.
Fact: That 30% above is not a typo. You will need insulin if you have type 1 diabetes, but it’s relatively rare for people with type 2. Instead, you might control type 2 diabetes with oral medications like metformin that work by decreasing the amount of sugar in the blood and increasing your body’s insulin response. Or, you might go med-free with regular exercise, a nutritious diet that helps you avoid blood sugar spikes, and even staying on top of raging stress.

Myth: If you have diabetes, you can’t eat carbs.
Fact: Speaking of a balanced diet, here’s the deal: You can still eat carbs if you have diabetes, you just have to be a little more calculated about it. Be aware that more foods than just your starchy standbys or your sweet treats pack carbs—like milk, yogurt, and fruit. Enlist the help of a dietitian to pin down perfect portion sizes. Allowing yourself the occasional, appropriate-sized carb ensures you won’t feel deprived. It’s best to have a balanced diet, but every so often it’s okay to give into a craving and have a taste of the cake, as long as it’s not a daily habit. Look for carbs that are rich in fiber, like lentils, beans, squash, and potatoes, since they’ll slow digestion, helping to keep the natural ebb and flow of your blood sugar relatively stable. Some people, go a little overboard and think if they’re taking insulin they can chow down on whatever they want. While the occasional treat certainly isn’t off the table, you still don’t want to subject your body to major swings in blood sugar throughout the day, or you risk undue stress on your organs and the uncomfortable and often worrisome symptoms of low blood sugar, like shakiness, blurred vision, a rapid heartbeat, and confusion.

 

Myth: Eating too much sugar causes diabetes.
Fact: Sugars don’t cause diabetes. Rather, diabetes is a response to an intricate dance between the carbs and sugars coming in, your family’s history of diabetes, your weight, and how your body adjusts to all of the above.

Myth: Being overweight or obese leads to diabetes.
Fact: Let us repeat: Diabetes is caused by a mix of genetic, lifestyle, and physiological factors. So far, researchers haven’t singled out a specific cause, and would you please stop with the finger-pointing already?! Yes, weight is a risk factor, but there are underweight people with diabetes and overweight people who never get the disease. In fact, about 15% of people with type 2 diabetes are at a so-called “normal” weight.

Myth: You’ll know if you have diabetes because of the way you feel.
Fact: A lot of people walk around with diabetes for years and don’t realize they have it. Of the 29.1 million Americans thought to have diabetes, an estimated 8.1 million don’t know they have it, according to the American Diabetes Association. That’s largely due to how easy it is to convince yourself that some of the more noticeable symptoms are something less serious. Increased urination, for example, might just be a urinary infection, you tell yourself, and unusual fatigue is just the tail end of that cold you can’t shake. You have to put everything together and then present the collection of your symptoms to your doctor, especially if you have a history of diabetes in your family.

Myth: Diabetes is not a serious disease.
Fact: It sure is. Diabetes itself won’t kill you, but if you don’t take careful steps to manage it, complications could. Left unchecked, diabetes can lead to heart disease, stroke, amputations, blindness, and kidney disease—none of which is worth forgoing treatment. When sugar builds up in your blood, it affects your blood vessels and nerve endings, eventually contributing to these harrowing side effects.

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