Globally, diabetes is becoming increasingly prevalent, as are the myths and misconceptions that surround it. Here, we discuss 11 of these repeated untruths.
Although diabetes is a familiar word, symptoms vary, and the biological mechanisms involved are complex. Because it is both common and complicated, half-truths abound.
Unfortunately, some of the myths we cover in this article increase the stigma attached to diabetes. For this reason alone, it is essential to challenge these falsehoods.
Firstly, we will briefly explain what diabetes is and highlight the differences between the three most common forms of diabetes: type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the pancreas cells that create insulin. It tends to occur earlier in life than type 2 diabetes. In type 2 diabetes, the body does not make enough insulin, does not respond well to insulin, or both.
Gestational diabetes, as the name suggests, occurs during pregnancy. During pregnancy, the body needs more insulin. Gestational diabetes occurs when the body cannot meet these new requirements.
Although gestational diabetes usually goes away after birth, there is a risk of developing it again during future pregnancies and developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
Eating sugar does not directly cause diabetes. However, consuming a sugary diet can lead to overweight and obesity, which are risk factors for type 2 diabetes.
This is a common myth, perhaps understandably — blood sugar levels play an essential role in diabetes. Sugar itself, though, is not a causal factor.
As ever, the story is complex: there does appear to be a link between regularly drinking soda and risk for type 2 diabetes.
Scientists still do not understand why some people develop type 1 diabetes, and others do not. However, nutrition is not a
Perhaps because diabetes is so common, some people believe that it is not a serious disease. This is incorrect. There is no cure for diabetes, and there are a host of complications that can occur if a person does not manage the condition well.
Overweight and obesity are risk factors for type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes, but the condition can occur in people of any weight. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Diabetes Statistic Report, 2020,
Type 1 diabetes has no associations with body weight.
People with diabetes certainly do need to manage their diets carefully: monitoring carbohydrate intake is important. However, they can still incorporate treats.
The American Diabetes Association explain:
“The key to sweets is to have a very small portion and save them for special occasions, so you focus your meals on healthier foods.”
Individuals with diabetes need to carefully plan what and when they will eat to ensure that their blood sugar levels remain balanced.
A related myth is that people with diabetes need to eat special “diabetes-friendly” foods. These products are often more expensive, and some can still raise glucose levels.
Thankfully, this is a myth. While it is true that diabetes can lead to blindness and amputations in some cases, it is not inevitable. And for individuals who manage their condition carefully, these outcomes are rare.
Experts have identified several
A diabetes diagnosis does not automatically mean that someone needs to stop driving. In a position statement on diabetes and driving, the American Diabetes Association explain:
“[M]ost people with diabetes safely operate motor vehicles without creating any meaningful risk of injury to themselves or others.”
However, they also explain that, if concerns arise, people should undergo assessment on an individual basis. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation:
“[P]eople with diabetes are able to drive unless they are limited by certain complications of diabetes. These include severely low blood glucose levels or vision problems. If you are experiencing diabetes-related complications, you should work closely with your diabetes healthcare team to find out if diabetes affects your ability to drive.”
In the U.S., an estimated
However, it is not a given. Lifestyle changes can turn the tide. Regular physical activity and a more healthful diet can
Once again, this is untrue. In fact, exercise is an important component in the management of diabetes. Among other things, exercise helps drive weight loss and reduces blood pressure, both of which are risk factors for complications. It can also help the body use insulin better.
However, exercise can impact blood sugar levels in various ways, sometimes increasing it and, at other times, decreasing it.
According to Diabetes U.K., “Some days, you’ll do exactly the same type of activity and eat the same foods, but your blood sugar levels may act differently to what you’d expect.”
They also offer tips for managing blood sugar during activity:
- Check your blood sugar while exercising and keep a record of how it behaves to show your doctor. This can help guide any necessary changes in insulin.
- For people who are at risk of hypos, keep fast-acting carbohydrates close to hand.
- Wear diabetes identification so that people can help if needed.
This is a myth. Pathogens do not cause diabetes, so a person cannot pass it to someone else. Doctors classify it as a noncommunicable disease.
Currently, there is no cure for diabetes. Any claims that a product can cure diabetes are false. Many herbal or natural products will do little or nothing and, in some cases, they can potentially cause harm; diabetes.co.uk explain:
“[B]ecause certain herbs, vitamins, and supplements may interact with diabetes medications (including insulin) and increase their hypoglycemic effects, it is often argued that [using] natural therapies could reduce blood sugars to dangerously low levels and raise the risk of other diabetes complications.”
Diabetes is a complex but common disease. As its prevalence increases, it is essential to overturn myths as we find them.