MYTHS ABOUT DIABETES

 

It is human nature to fear the unknown. Tribesmen told stories of trolls and demons; early sailors kept watch for sea monsters. We're still afraid of not knowing—and we tell a lot of tall tales about diabetes! Scary stories fill a void when we don't know the truth—and disappear when the truth is known. Here are a few myths about diabetes, and the answers.

"I got it from eating sugar."

Gobbling sugar isn't good for anyone. Usually the preceding statement means sweets, which also have LOTS OF FAT, so the end result can be a serious weight problem, not to mention those trips to the dentist. People who "stuff up" on cakes and ice cream often miss essential nutrients found in other foods...but their bad eating habits didn't cause their diabetes.

Doctors and researchers are still unsure what causes diabetes. There appear to be a number of factors, some of them genetic. Once diabetes appears, gorging on sugar is a bad idea—but it DOESN'T cause the disease.

"I'm gonna go blind."

While it is true that all diabetics are at risk of its ramifications, such as blindness, heart problems, and renal disease, it is equally true that only a small percentage actually experience the full force of such complications. The Diabetes Control and Complications Trial proved that the better the blood sugar control, the less the likelihood of ramifications. Anyone already experiencing side effects of diabetes needs to achieve and maintain the tightest possible control, to minimize their further progression.

"My child will be diabetic too."

Children of diabetics, and close relatives, are considered at increased risk to develop the disease. Your child, your brothers and sisters, and your cousins should all be periodically checked, if you have the disease. Current statistics suggest that the child of a diabetic parent may have, at worst, a one-in-four chance of developing diabetes. Don't forget that it sometimes skips a generation or two—so that diabetic grandparent may be significant.

"Since I don't have to inject, it isn't serious."

A surprising number of people still believe this myth. Non Insulin-Dependent Diabetes Mellitus (type 2 diabetes) can produce destructively high blood glucose levels, if it is not kept under control. Type 2 diabetes often grows more severe with time, so a person who starts with "a touch of sugar," will probably need to progress to diet-and-exercise-based blood sugar control, then to oral diabetes medications. Many veteran type 2 diabetics find their "oral meds" have become ineffective with time, and they need to switch to insulin injections to maintain effective diabetes control. Type 2 is serious, and if your numbers "aren't that bad," you're probably in the early stages of the disease.

"I'm losing my sight, my kidneys are going—its all over for me!"

The best answer for this antiquated myth is to look at the evidence. Having diabetes is not pleasant, but its ramifications do not present a bar to continued participation in the main stream of life. With mastery of the proper skills and possession of the proper adaptive equipment, diabetics can continue to live full lives, even with severe ramifications. Many members of the Diabetes Action Network of the National Federation of the Blind are living examples of just how much is possible, once one rejects the idea that blindness, or kidney failure, or neuropathy, means inability.

Diabetes doesn't mean a quick death, either. Many diabetics, even insulin-dependent, live well into old age. With recent improvements in diabetes care, younger diabetics should do even better.

"I've gotta eat that horrible diabetic diet!"

Far from horrible, unless you're a confirmed junk-food addict, today's "diabetic diet" is a well balanced, sensible presentation that would be healthy for anyone to adopt, with or without diabetes. And gone are the days when anything with sugar was "off limits"-under today's system, all carbohydrates are counted equally. If you want to eat something rich in carbs, you "pay for it," by cutting an equivalent amount of carbs from somewhere else in your diet. There is a lot of flexibility, and the rest is just a matter of care and moderation.

"I don't need that meter; I can tell if I'm too high or too low."

This myth is dangerous because it's sometimes true. Sometimes people can sense a "low," without a meter, and take appropriate action. Sometimes they can't, and they wind up in the ambulance. Hyperglycemia is harder to detect by "feel," and either way, making do without regular blood glucose tests is like flying without a parachute. You're guessing. Learn your body's signals when you get into trouble, but use your glucose monitor to be sure.

"I can't exercise; the stress would make things worse."

Physical exercise burns blood glucose, pulling your numbers down, and lessening your need for insulin or oral medications. Care is required to make sure you do not drop dangerously low, or head into other complications such as foot irritations (especially if you have decreased sensation in the feet); but such care is just an expansion of what you should be doing already and the benefits of a carefully planned and faithfully followed exercise program far outweigh the perils. Discuss exercise plans, and any adjustment in medications, with your doctor, first. You might consult with an exercise physiologist as well, one with experience in the diabetes field.

The above are just a sample of the myths of diabetes. There are hundreds—some scary, some dangerously rose-colored. There is no substitute for knowing. Pay attention to your body. Keep ahead of what your diabetes is doing— his is no time for surprises! Consult with your doctor, or your diabetes educator.