There’s a lot of misinformation with respect to the causes of diabetes and how to live with diabetes. It’s clear that we have a lot of educating to do to help patients and to help family members understand how to be a good support team. Diabetes, in its many forms, is a complex disease.
There are many myths that make it difficult for people to understand the hard facts about diabetes—such as, it is a serious and potentially deadly disease affecting nearly 30 million Americans.
Diabetes threatens those we love. It is lived—and battled—every day by real people and families. It is treated by knowledgeable and caring doctors, nurses, diabetes educators and other health care professionals. Scientific researchers dedicate their careers to improving diabetes treatments and finding a cure.
Type 1 Diabetes
Let’s start with some fundamental fact-checking.
Type 1 diabetes is an unpreventable, life-threatening autoimmune disease for which there currently is no cure.
In type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin. It was formerly called juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes. Type 1 is caused by genetics and unknown environmental factors that trigger its onset. Just to survive, people with type 1 must take multiple injections of insulin daily or continually infuse insulin with a pump. Multiple blood glucose checks and healthful eating and regular physical activity are also part of everyday treatment.
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes, accounting for about 95 percent of cases. In type 2 diabetes, the body does not use insulin properly, called insulin resistance, and may not make enough insulin. Type 2 is influenced by genetics, family history, age and inactivity. Being overweight is a major risk factor for developing type 2, but it’s important to remember that most overweight people never develop type 2, and many people with it are at a normal weight or only moderately overweight. Type 2 is treated with healthy eating, physical activity, oral medications and sometimes insulin or other injectables. There is no cure for type 2 either, though it can often be prevented or delayed through lifestyle changes, such as increased exercise and healthful eating.
To sugar or not to sugar…
Diabetes is NOT directly caused by eating too much sugar. Research has shown that drinking sugary drinks is linked to type 2 diabetes, but this is far from a cause-and-effect, and it is not the only factor. A diet high in excess calories from any source contributes to weight gain, which is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Sugar-sweetened beverages are a major source of those extra, empty calories. The American Diabetes Association specifically recommends that people avoid drinking sugar-sweetened beverages to help prevent type 2 diabetes. These beverages include regular soda, sweet tea and fruit drinks. This would explain the myth that people with diabetes cannot eat sweets.
Sweets aren’t completely of limits. However if eaten in moderation as part of a healthy meal plan or combined with exercise, people with diabetes can have sugar. Practicing moderation is a health behavior for all, whether you have diabetes or not. For diabetics, there are times when sugar is a must: If your blood glucose level drops too low, food and drink containing rapidly absorbed carbohydrate is essential for treating dangerous hypoglycemia.
Let’s talk about it.
We need a constructive national dialogue about the rise of diabetes and its impact on our country. We face devastating diseases that affect millions of people young and old and of all races, shapes and sizes. Diabetes dictates how they organize their day, what they eat at every meal, how they choose to be physically active and even how they spend their money. Together diabetes and prediabetes cost our country $322 billion a year. This impact can also be measured in blindness, amputation, kidney failure, stroke, heart attack and other complications. We believe that resources spent discussing diabetes would be better spent on raising awareness about all types of diabetes and funding and conducting research to help us uncover new answers and to ultimately find a cure.
In the face of the hard facts and statistics, diabetes is best fought with knowledge and compassion. There is no “good” type of diabetes. There is no “bad” person with diabetes. Let’s stay informed and do our best to support our loved ones through empowering them and empowering ourselves with knowledge.