In my 16 years as a certified diabetes educator, I’ve worked with many people newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and their families. There is much they don’t know about this complicated disease and much to be learned as we separate fact from fiction.
Often, my patients blame themselves and feel guilt or shame with their diagnoses.
What’s more, some physicians mistakenly believe that strict adherence to diet and exercise are enough to manage this progressive disease. When this fails, they think the patient is at fault. These lifestyle myths have got to go!
MYTH 1: Obesity and a sedentary lifestyle cause diabetes.
In fact, there are several contributing risk factors, including genetics (family history and ethnicity), age and weight. Of course, I tell all my patients that an active lifestyle and eating a balanced diet are recommended for overall wellbeing. However, getting less than optimal exercise and nutrition is not enough to develop diabetes.
MYTH 2: Diet and exercise alone will manage the disease.
Diet and exercise alone will not manage type 2 diabetes forever. If a patient is diagnosed with prediabetes, or is at the earliest stages of the disease, then an active lifestyle and nutritious meals may help. But over time, this progressive condition will require medication and, eventually, insulin.
I tell my patients to imagine their pancreas as an insulin factory and their insulin-producing beta cells as the factory’s production team. Beta cells work hard to make extra insulin when patients become resistant to insulin. Most patients with insulin resistance will not develop diabetes. But some cannot produce enough insulin to overcome the resistance and will eventually develop diabetes.
MYTH 3: People with type 2 diabetes on insulin are failures.
Nothing could be further from the truth. When patients have diabetes, their pancreas gradually loses its capability of secreting insulin. Some medications can slow this decline, but most patients after approximately 10 years will become too insulin deficient and will need insulin injections. At this stage, the goal is to maintain healthy glucose levels, or HbA1c. Type 2 diabetes becomes life altering when blood sugar isn’t managed and complications result.
My patients always have lots of questions once they begin taking insulin, which leads me to the next myth.
MYTH 4: Insulin causes weight gain.
In fact, weight gain is not because of insulin, but because of the LACK of insulin. Once a person becomes insulin deficient and blood sugar reaches a threshold, the kidneys start to expel additional sugar via urination. As the extra sugar is passed in the urine, so are calories.
But with effective insulin treatment, the loss of calories in the urine stops and patients could gain weight unless they eat less. I tell my patients that weight loss from insulin deficiency and unmanaged blood sugar is far more serious than weight gain from insulin therapy.
The last diabetes myth?
MYTH 5: Diabetes is not a serious disease.
In fact, diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States1. That’s because unmanaged blood sugar damages blood vessels throughout the body causing systemic problems, particularly heart and kidney disease, circulatory issues that can result in amputation and the potential for vision loss.
Getting patients to take diabetes seriously is my greatest challenge as a diabetes educator. Sustained high blood sugar is a medical emergency on par with advanced-stage cancer. The sooner my patients fully engage with managing their care, the better their outcome is likely to be.
Before insulin was discovered 100 years ago, diabetes was a death sentence. Today, we know so much more about this progressive condition and, thanks to science and technology, have an array of therapies to help manage a patient’s blood sugar.
At Hygieia, I’m proud of the work we do to help patients get the right insulin dose at the right time each time they inject. This is how we’re making the future brighter for patients with diabetes.
 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/diabetes.htm