Busting 5 of the Biggest Diabetes Myths

DIABETES CARE|Mar.19, 2019


Chances are that you know someone with diabetes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2015, more than 9 percent of Americans had diabetes. But even though diabetes is so common, there are still a lot of misconceptions about its causes, treatments and how living with diabetes affects your everyday routine.

That's why we're busting these diabetes myths.

1. People With Diabetes Can't Be Active

There is a kernel of truth to this one, as people with diabetes might need to take certain precautions depending on individual characteristics and health status. For instance, if you have diabetes and are prone to hypoglycemia, it's important to check your glucose level before and during any exercise routine to make sure that it stays in a healthy range.

But physical activity is one of the best ways that people with diabetes can improve their glucose control. According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), aerobic exercise and strength training can improve glucose control and the way your body uses insulin; it also strengthens your heart, lungs and bones and lowers your blood pressure.

People with diabetes can be bodybuilders, swimmers and even marathoners. The key to being active with diabetes is planning, regularly checking your blood sugar levels and having the right tools at the ready.

2. If You Have Diabetes, You're More Likely to Catch a Cold or the Flu

There is no evidence that people with diabetes are more likely than other people to get sick with the flu or the common cold. As a general rule, it's important to practice good hand-washing — especially during flu season — and to stay home if you're symptomatic in order to prevent contracting a viral illness or passing one along to others.

However, special precautions should be observed if you get the flu, or otherwise become ill.

3. People With Diabetes Can't Have Sugar

One of the biggest diabetes myth is about diet. Most people think that if you're living with diabetes, it's only sugar-free candy, sugar-free cookies and diet soda from here on out. But the reality is that each person's dietary needs are unique, and people with diabetes are no different.

The ADA encourages people with diabetes to focus their eating plan on lean proteins, moderate amounts of sodium, leafy green vegetables and avoiding saturated fat — the same eating plan it recommends to everyone.

The occasional slice of birthday cake or pumpkin pie isn't completely off limits if you have diabetes, so long as it's a small portion and part of a larger healthy eating plan.

4. If You Have Diabetes, You Automatically Need Insulin Pills

Only some people with diabetes are insulin-dependent. A lot of the confusion surrounding this myth stems from a misunderstanding of the two types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is caused by problems with the cells in your pancreas, which makes them unable to release insulin. People with type 1 diabetes are typically completely insulin-dependent and rely on insulin injections to help them absorb the food that they eat.

People with type 2 diabetes often have some pancreas function but have developed insulin resistance, and, over time, their pancreas may fail. People with type 2 diabetes can use a variety of treatments to manage their diabetes. They can manage carbohydrates through eating plans, take medications for glycemic control, and supplement with additional insulin as necessary.

Diabetes isn't a one-size-fits-all diagnosis, and there are many ways that people manage their diabetes. So if you or a loved one is newly diagnosed with diabetes, be patient and know that finding the best approach will take a team effort. Your diabetes care team may consist of your primary care physician, an endocrinologist, a diabetes educator and a dietitian, depending on your needs.

This myth is also a twofer: Insulin cannot be taken in pill form and must be injected. If taken orally, insulin would break down in your digestive system.

5. Diabetes Management Will Take Over Your Life

One of the most pernicious diabetes myths is that you won't be able to enjoy life like you used to, that the good days are behind you.

There are some lifestyle adjustments that you'll need to make, such as adopting a healthy eating plan and working regular exercise into your schedule. But people with diabetes can pursue their dreams and accomplish goals without too much disruption to their daily life. Innovations in diabetes management, such as continuous glucose monitoring and diabetes apps, are making diabetes easier to manage than ever before.

So don't be fooled by diabetes misconceptions. Living with diabetes doesn't have to keep you from everyday life.