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Diabetes Basics

Diabetes: What’s True and False?

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Sorting Myth From Fact

There’s a lot of diabetes information out there — unfortunately, not all of it is based on facts. Although you can find a lot of good information about diabetes on the Internet, you also can find bad information. Following bad advice could actually harm a person with diabetes.

Sometimes you don’t even need to log onto a website to get incorrect info — family members or friends can give out information that’s incorrect, inaccurate, or misleading without even knowing it!

It’s a good idea to talk to your diabetes health care team if you ever come across information that doesn’t seem quite right or sounds too good to be true. And be cautious if someone tells you to do the opposite of what your diabetes health care team has told you — always check with your doctors first to get the scoop on what’s helpful and what’s harmful.

So let’s find out which of these common things said about diabetes are true — and which are false.

Eating too much sugar causes diabetes.

False: Type 1 diabetes happens when the cells in the pancreas (pronounced: PAN-kree-us) that make insulin (pronounced: IN-suh-lin) are destroyed. This process isn’t related to how much sugar a person eats.

With type 2 diabetes, the body can’t respond to insulin normally. The tendency to get type 2 diabetes is mostly inherited. That means it’s linked to the genes people get from their parents. Still, eating too much sugar (or foods with sugar, like candy or regular soda) can cause weight gain, and weight gain can increase a person’s risk for developing the disease.

Some newer research studies suggest that eating more sugar might increase a person’s risk for getting type 2 diabetes, even without extra weight gain. This hasn’t been completely proven to be true yet.

People with diabetes can never eat sweets.

False: You can have your cake and eat it too, just not the whole cake! People with diabetes need to control the total amount of carbohydrates (pronounced: kar-bo-HI-drates) in their diet, and sugary treats count as carbs. But this doesn’t mean that they can’t have any sweets. It just means that they should put the brakes on eating too many sweets and other high-calorie foods that are low in nutrients (like vitamins and minerals we all need). Eating too many of these foods also can make it less likely you’ll want to eat healthier foods.

People can outgrow diabetes.

False: People don’t grow out of their diabetes. In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas stops making insulin and won’t make it again. People with type 1 diabetes will always need to take insulin, at least until scientists find a cure for diabetes. People with type 2 diabetes may find it easier to control blood sugar levels if they make healthy changes to their lives, like eating right and exercising regularly. But they’ll probably always have the tendency to develop high blood sugar levels, so it’s important to maintain those healthy lifestyle changes.

You can catch diabetes from a person who has it.

False: Diabetes is not contagious, which means you can’t get it from another person. Scientists don’t know exactly how people get type 1 diabetes, but think it may be associated with something in the environment, like a virus. But even coming into contact with such a virus doesn’t mean someone will definitely get diabetes. People with type 1 diabetes have to inherit genes that make them more likely to get diabetes.

People with diabetes can feel when their blood sugar levels are high or low.

False: You may feel certain symptoms (like weakness or fatigue) if your blood sugar levels are high or low, but the only way to know your blood sugar levels for sure is to test them. People who don’t test regularly may have blood sugar levels that are high enough to damage the body without them even realizing it.

All people with diabetes need to take insulin.

False: All people with type 1 diabetes have to take insulin injections because their pancreases don’t make insulin anymore. Some, but not all, people with type 2 diabetes have to take insulin — with or without other diabetes medications — to manage their blood sugar levels.

Insulin cures diabetes.

False: Diabetes is a condition that is managed with insulin, but insulin can’t cure it. Insulin helps get glucose (pronounced: GLOO-kose) out of the blood and into the cells, where it’s used for energy. This helps to keep blood sugar levels under control, but doesn’t correct the reason why diabetes developed or make the diabetes go away.

Pills for diabetes are a form of insulin.

False: Diabetes medicines that a person takes in pill form are not insulin. Insulin is a protein that would be broken down and destroyed by the acids and digestive enzymes in the stomach and intestines if swallowed. That’s why insulin has to be given as a shot. People with type 2 diabetes sometimes take pills that help the body make more insulin or use the insulin it makes more effectively (remember, people with type 2 diabetes still make insulin, the body just can’t respond to it normally). Pills for diabetes cannot help people with type 1 diabetes because their bodies don’t make insulin.

Having to take more insulin means diabetes is getting worse.

False: There is no one-size-fits-all insulin dose. Insulin doses are different for each person. How fast you’re growing, how much you eat, how active you are, and whether you’re going through puberty are all things that affect the amount of insulin you’ll need each day. And insulin doses often need to be changed over time.

People with diabetes don’t have to take their insulin or pills when they’re sick.

False: When people are sick, especially if they are throwing up or not eating much, having to take insulin or pills for their diabetes might not seem to make sense. Even though you might have to adjust your insulin dose when you’re sick, you can’t skip it altogether. You need energy when you’re sick to help your body heal. Insulin helps you use that energy properly. Talk to your diabetes health care team to make sure you understand what to do when you’re sick, depending on whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes.

People with diabetes can’t exercise.

False: Exercise is important for all people — with or without diabetes! Exercise has many benefits. In addition to helping keep your weight under control (which is helpful for managing diabetes), exercise is good for your heart and lungs, it helps you burn off some steam, and it relieves stress. And exercise is great for blood sugar control. Talk to your diabetes health care team about exercising and managing your blood sugar.

Low-carbohydrate diets are good for people with diabetes because they should avoid carbs.

False: Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy, and foods containing carbs should provide about half of your calories each day. Low-carb diets tend to be higher in protein and fat. Following a high-fat, high-protein diet over a long period of time can be hard on the kidneys and heart. People with diabetes are already at risk for kidney and heart disease, so adding low-carb diets to the mix could cause problems. People with diabetes need to follow a diet that contains the right amount of carbohydrates, so they can grow normally and do the things they like doing while keeping their blood sugar levels under control.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: August 2013