News and insights brought to you by the International Diabetes Federation

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Myths about diabetes abound in many communities worldwide. Reason and facts about the disease are often sacrificed to opinion and myth. Demonstrable falsehoods are circulated and recycled as fact. Diabetes myths lead to greater stigma, hurt and most significantly, misunderstanding and misdiagnosis. Here are the top five greatest myths about diabetes and the truth behind each one.

Myth number 1: Eating sugar causes diabetes.

The truth: Sugar doesn’t cause diabetes.

There’s an often heard myth in public opinion: Too much sugar in the blood? Obviously people who have diabetes eat too much sugar. This might sound logical but it’s not the case. 100% of the carbohydrates we eat (grains, fruit, dairy, even vegetables) are converted into glucose for energy. Insulin unlocks our cells so glucose can get inside. In type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease, the cells that produce insulin are destroyed so blood glucose (sugar) levels rise to dangerous levels. In type 2 diabetes, a metabolic condition, there is a problem in the way the body processes insulin. While eating a diet high in sugar, and processed foods plus other unhealthy lifestyle factors can increase the risk for type 2 diabetes, sugar alone doesn’t cause either type of diabetes.

Myth number 2: Cinnamon, bitter melon, turmeric, stone fruit, or hibiscus leaves (insert the latest idea) cure diabetes.

The truth: There is no cure for any type of diabetes.  

While some herbs and foods can improve a person’s insulin sensitivity or insulin resistance in type 2 diabetes, there is absolutely no magic spice, herb, plant or food that can cure anyone of any type of diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is incurable, although there is a good deal of research ongoing.

In type 2 diabetes, when it is detected very early, some individuals can reverse the disease with major lifestyle changes including a healthy diet along with exercise under doctor supervision. This is a kind of remission which needs constant attention for life. Additionally, there is a need for greater awareness about the development of type 2 diabetes in those with a family history so people can work on preventative strategies such as healthy eating and exercise. Healthy strategies are not just recommended for people at risk for or for those living with diabetes but for all people.

Myth number 3: Type 1 diabetes is the more serious type of diabetes.

The truth:  Type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes, including gestational diabetes, are equally very serious. 

Before Frederick Banting discovered insulin, children with type 1 diabetes died within a few weeks of being diagnosed. It’s clear that the tragic history of type 1 diabetes still influences thinking today. Currently, people with type 1 diabetes inject insulin to achieve near normal glucose levels. The greatest threats to people with type 1 diabetes are hypoglycemia (low blood glucose caused from too much injected insulin), Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA), and misdiagnosis. Type 2 diabetes is often undiagnosed for years (a silent disease) and then detected too late, when a person visits the doctor for a serious problem like trouble seeing (blindness) or an infection that requires amputation. Type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes are both very serious for different reasons.

Diabetes myths lead to greater stigma, hurt and most significantly, misunderstanding and misdiagnosis.

Myth number 4: Only children develop type 1 diabetes/only older people (over 65 years) develop type 2 diabetes.

The truth: People at any age can develop type 1 diabetes and the same applies to type 2 diabetes.

Today, adults happen to be the largest growing segment of people with type 1 diabetes. Additionally, adults are often misdiagnosed with type 2 diabetes instead of type 1 diabetes because of their age, weight or race (the risk of type 2 is higher in certain ethnic populations). It is easy to differentiate type 1 diabetes from type 2 diabetes with antibody tests and the measurement of a C-peptide level.

Today, type 2 diabetes is developing in children, young adults and, especially, at an alarmingly high rate in people in their 30s and 40s worldwide. Type 2 diabetes is occurring in an increasing number of children and adolescents as rates of obesity continue to rise.

Myth number 5: Diabetes isn’t a big deal.

The truth:  Diabetes is a very serious problem and is responsible for millions of deaths each year. 

Diabetes is a really big deal. In 2017, the IDF Diabetes Atlas estimated:

  • 1 in 11 people have diabetes or 425 million people worldwide.
  • 1 in 2 adults living with diabetes (212 million) is undiagnosed.
  • 1 in 6 births is affected by high blood glucose (hyperglycemia) in pregnancy)
  • Over 1 million children have type 1 diabetes and incidence is on the rise.

Diabetes causes approximately 4 million deaths each year.  If you or a loved one lives with diabetes, please take it seriously.  If you would like to learn more about diabetes, please click here.


Elizabeth Snouffer is Editor of Diabetes Voice

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