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5 Myths About Type 2 Diabetes
By Tasneem Paliwala, MD
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 37.3 million people in the United States have diabetes. Type 2 diabetes accounts for 90% to 95% of these cases.
It's important to note the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. Type 1 is an autoimmune condition in which the body destroys the cells that make insulin, which is needed for glucose to travel from the bloodstream into the cells. The glucose is needed for energy. For people with Type 1 diabetes, the level of glucose in their blood is too high and they can't produce insulin naturally. They have to take insulin to control blood sugar levels and test their blood glucose levels regularly.
Type 2 diabetes is typically caused by risk factors such as age, weight, ethnic background, and family history. With this form of diabetes, your body doesn't make enough insulin or doesn't process it correctly. This is called insulin resistance.
Even though Type 2 diabetes is so prevalent, there are several misconceptions about it.
Myth #1: People with Type 2 diabetes can't eat sugar.
This may be the most common myth about diabetes. Just as eating sugar isn't the sole cause of the condition, it's also not off-limits. Having diabetes means the body doesn't respond normally to insulin, which raises blood sugar. So, people with Type 2 diabetes shouldn't consume large quantities of sugar.
The key to eating sweets when you have the condition is portion control. Exactly how much sugar you can safely consume depends on how controlled your diabetes is.
Myth #2: People with Type 2 diabetes have to eat special foods.
Although managing Type 2 diabetes does require following a healthy diet, it doesn't mean you have to eat foods that are labeled “diabetic-friendly.” In fact, some of these packaged foods can actually raise blood glucose levels or contain sugar alcohols that can upset your stomach. They also tend to be expensive.
You're much better off simply eating a balanced diet that includes non-starchy vegetables, whole grains, unprocessed foods, lean meats, and fresh fruits.
Myth #3: Only obese people have Type 2 diabetes.
While it's true that obesity is a common risk factor for Type 2 diabetes, not everyone who is obese has the condition and you don't have to be obese to become diabetic. Approximately 41% of people in the U.S. are obese and only about 11% of the U.S. population has diabetes. So, a large percentage of obese and overweight people don't have it.
Someone can develop the condition because it runs in their family and be a healthy weight or even underweight. There are several risk factors that have nothing to do with being overweight.
Myth #4: Type 2 diabetes isn't that serious.
Diabetes causes more deaths annually than breast cancer and HIV/AIDS combined, in large part because of the health complications associated with the condition. Adults with diabetes have more than double the chance of experiencing a heart attack or stroke. Nerve damage and reduced blood flow in the feet can increase the risk of foot ulcers, infection, and even limb amputation. Damage to the blood vessels in the retina can lead to diabetic retinopathy, which can in turn cause blindness. Diabetes is also one of the leading causes of kidney failure.
The good news is that most of these complications can be prevented by properly managing the condition, which includes staying active, eating healthy, and taking diabetic medications as prescribed.
Myth #5: Type 2 diabetes can't be reversed.
Type 2 diabetes is a chronic disease that can't be cured. However, it can go into remission and be reversed, meaning glucose levels can return to non-diabetic or prediabetic range without the use of medication.
This reversal of levels is typically achieved through lifestyle changes that include eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and losing any excess weight.
If you've been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, it's important to separate fact from myth. If you have any questions about the condition, consult your Kelsey-Seybold primary care physician or endocrinologist.