Last week Jenny Thompson, my co-worker in Wellness and Diabetes Education, wrote an article on diabetes myths. She looked at the myths she has heard and had to address from a dietitian’s perspective. This week I am going to address and hopefully dispel some myths related to diabetes from a nurse’s perspective.
• Myth No. 1: Eating too Much Sugar Causes Diabetes.
The causes of diabetes are not totally understood. What is known is that simply eating too much sugar is unlikely to cause diabetes. Instead, diabetes begins when something disrupts your body’s ability to turn the food you eat into glucose, a type of sugar needed to power your cells. A hormone called insulin is made in the pancreas. Insulin helps the cells in the body use glucose for fuel. Here are the most common types of diabetes and what researchers know about their causes:
Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas cannot make insulin. Without insulin, sugar builds up in the blood stream. People with Type 1 diabetes must take insulin to help get the sugar into the cells.
Type 2 diabetes occurs when the insulin does not work as it should (insulin resistance), the pancreas does not make enough insulin or both. Being overweight makes Type 2 diabetes more likely to occur. It can happen in a person of any age.
Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy in some women.
• Myth No. 2: My Doctor Says I Have “Borderline diabetes.” Since I don’t have diabetes, I don’t have to worry.
There is no such thing as borderline diabetes. To many people, borderline means they don’t really have the diabetes so they don’t have to make changes to control it. This is wrong.
If you have diabetes, you have diabetes. Diabetes must be treated and taken seriously. And if you have pre-diabetes, a term used to describe blood sugars that are too high to be normal but not high enough to be diabetes, you must take it seriously as well.
• Myth No. 3: If I don’t take diabetes medicine, my diabetes must not be serious.
Not everyone who has diabetes requires diabetes medicine. If the body produces some insulin, weight loss, healthy eating habits and regular physical activity can help insulin work more effectively. However, diabetes does change over time and diabetes medicine may be needed later.
• Myth No. 4: I wasn’t taking diabetes medicine, but now the doctor has put me on medicine/insulin. That must mean I did something wrong, or I have failed.
As mentioned above, diabetes changes over time. What is working now is not going to work forever because diabetes is a progressive disease. The most important goal for people with diabetes is keeping near normal blood sugar levels in order to feel well and avoid long term diabetes complications.
• Myth No. 5: Insulin causes weight gain and because obesity is bad for you, you should avoid insulin.
Two studies closely observing and studying diabetes management, the UKPDS (United Kingdom Prospective Study) and the DCCT (Diabetes Control and Complications Trial), have shown the benefit of glucose management with insulin far outweighs (no pun intended) the risk of weight gain.
• Myth No. 6: The best way to judge your blood sugar is by the way you feel.
Some people have symptoms when their blood glucose is too high or low, others do not. Because some of the symptoms of high and low blood glucose are similar, it can be difficult to know what your symptoms mean. The only way to be sure is to check your blood sugar on a regular basis.
• Myth No. 7: If my blood sugar is usually more than 180 mg/dl, that must be normal for me.
No. Your “usual blood glucose” isn’t the same as normal blood glucose. Just because your blood glucose is usually high, does not mean this is a good blood glucose level. High blood glucose levels that are above recommended goal do damage to many organs and systems in your body.
• Myth No. 8: Type 2 Diabetes is not serious.
This is a very dangerous myth because people who believe it may not take care of themselves. All types of diabetes are serious and need to be taken seriously.
• Myth No. 9: (Probably one of the biggest myths I have encountered) There are blood glucose meters that allow me to check my blood glucose without sticking myself.
Every blood glucose meter on the market requires a drop of blood to get a reading. And in order to get that drop of blood there has to be a stick. There are meters that can test on the forearm or palm of the hand as well as on the finger, but no matter where you test you have to pierce the skin to get a drop of blood.
• Myth No. 9: Diabetes complications are inevitable so why pay attention to my diabetes?
Diabetes complications are not inevitable. The studies mentioned before — the UKPDS and DCCT — have shown that complication can be delayed and even prevented with good blood sugar control. As we teach in our Diabetes Self Management Education program here at Skiff, diabetes is a serious, common, costly but a controllable disease. There are many things people with diabetes can do to live a full life while preventing or delaying complications.
I hope this helps dispel some of the myths you have heard about diabetes and controlling diabetes. Remember, knowledge is power. The more you learn about diabetes, the better off you’ll be. If you have not attended a diabetes education program consider doing so. There are many opportunities for continuing to learn such as Skiff’s Diabetes Support Group, Lunch and Learn programs, Hy-Vee sponsored Skiff cooking classes, and Skiff’s Wellness department at the Farmer’s Market.