Debunking Diabetes Myths

Diabetes is so prevalent in our society that it’s often difficult to separate fact from fiction. And understanding the causes and solutions isn’t just the responsibility of the person with the condition. Diabetes is a societal problem, and understanding the facts is the best place to start.

Types of Diabetes

There are two main types of diabetes:

Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in younger people and is still commonly referred to as “juvenile diabetes.” Only 5 percent of people with diabetes have this form of the disease. In type 1 diabetes, the body produces little or no insulin, so these people require insulin therapy to live.

Type 2 diabetes is by far the most common form of the disease. In type 2, high blood glucose levels occur due either a lack of insulin or the body’s inability to use insulin efficiently. This is known as insulin resistance. People with type 2 diabetes are a very diverse group. It develops most often in middle-aged and older adults, but is being diagnosed more and more often in younger people. Some groups have a higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes than others. Type 2 diabetes is more common in African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans and Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders, as well as the older population and people on certain medications like steroids.

Facts

Below are some cold hard facts about diabetes.

  • According to the 2014 National Diabetes Statistics Report, 29.1 million people or 9.3 percent of the population have diabetes.
  • 21 million people have been diagnosed with the disease
  • 1 million people remain undiagnosed
  • There is no more use of the term “insulin-dependent” versus “non-insulin dependent” to distinguish type 1 from type 2 diabetes.
  • Approximately 79 million people in the United States have pre-diabetes, characterized by insulin resistance and can lead to type 2 diabetes.
  • During pregnancy, some women develop gestational diabetes. Being told you have gestational diabetes does not mean that you had diabetes before you conceived or that you will have diabetes after giving birth. However, it does put you at increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
  • Complications of diabetes can occur if the disease is left uncontrolled. Diabetes can cause large vessel damage that can lead to hypertension, peripheral artery disease and heart disease. It also can cause smaller vessel disease that can affect your eyes, kidneys and nerves.
  • In 2012, the estimated costs of diabetes in the United States was $ 245 billion. After adjusting for population age and sex differences, the average medical costs among people with diagnosed diabetes were more than two times higher than people without diabetes.

Fiction 

It’s also important to recognize the misinformation about the disease. Some common misperceptions are listed below.

  • Some believe that being overweight or obese will ultimately lead to diabetes. While being overweight is definitely is a risk factor, there are other factors involved such as age, family history, ethnicity and medications. Unfortunately, too many people disregard the other risk factors for diabetes and think that weight is the only one that matters. Most overweight people never develop pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes, and many people with these are at a normal weight or are only moderately overweight.
  • Once diagnosed with diabetes, many people feel like they’re powerless over their condition. Nothing can be farther from the truth. There are many lifestyle changes that can change the course of the disease.

Reality

If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with diabetes, it’s time to educate your self about the new reality.

  • Insulin resistance is linked to obesity and high levels of fat in the blood. This occurs most often in people with pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes, but people with type 1 diabetes can have insulin resistance, too. Early on, the pancreas makes extra insulin to make up for it. However, over time your pancreas may not able to keep up and cannot make enough insulin to keep your blood glucose in normal range, which is when pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes is diagnosed.
  • The accumulation of adipose tissue, in particular “belly fat,” is associated with insulin resistance. In fact, adipose tissue was in the past believed to be just a storage site for excess energy but, more recently, has been found to be a metabolically active organ on its own, making a number of hormones named adipokines. These factors play a big part in insulin resistance.
  • Weight loss has been proven without a doubt to have positive effects on our adipose tissue. It causes an increase in good adipokines and a decrease in bad adipokines. It also is associated with a reduction of insulin resistance and improvement of pancreatic function.
  • Our current treatment guidelines to date for insulin resistance start with lifestyle modification and move on to include starting medications and considering bariatric surgery. Unfortunately, oftentimes in the general medical community, the efforts to educate and focus on everyday life changes are glossed over and move directly toward adding meds. This contributes to feelings of frustration and lost hope on the part of many people with diabetes.

Knowing the facts about diabetes and understanding the role you can play in its prevention and management cannot be overstated. And that’s where the entire community comes in. Whether you’re cooking for you family or running a restaurant, offering healthy food choices is a first line of defense. Also integrating exercise into our lives is key to healthy insulin production. Walk, take the stairs and find active ways to entertain yourself. And don’t forget, even if you are diagnosed with diabetes, you are never powerless. By taking control of your environment and accepting help from your doctor, you can live a healthy life with diabetes…or perhaps even avoid it altogether.

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