Debunking diabetes stereotypes
Updated: December 23, 2012 6:27AM
Despite diabetes being a relatively common disease, several misconceptions still abound concerning it.
When taken to heart, they can sabotage even the best diabetes treatment plans and prevent the patients from living full and active lives.
The main myths that exist include:
• All diabetes is caused by eating too much sugar.
• People with diabetes must eat a rigid diet and never enjoy desserts again.
• It doesn’t matter what you eat, as long as you take insulin or medication.
• Fasting and skipping meals means less insulin or medication.
It’s important to understand the two types of diabetes because they are different diseases and require different, although sometimes similar, approaches to managing it.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that occurs when certain antibodies destroy the beta cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. Without insulin, the body cannot process glucose — the body’s fuel — and the person can become very sick.
One misconception is that excess consumption of refined sugar causes Type 1 diabetes. Researchers know there is a genetic predisposition but are exploring possible triggers that cause the autoimmune disease to begin. Possible triggers may include vital infection, stress, formula feeding (instead of breastfeeding), and early introduction of solid foods.
Although Type 1 diabetes generally occurs in the younger patient, not all Type 1 diabetes begin in childhood, which is why it is no longer called juvenile diabetes.
In Type 2 diabetes, which has a strong genetic component, the patient still produces some insulin, but either in insufficient amounts or in ways that muscle and fat cells no longer utilize effectively. It u sed to be called adult onset diabetes, but with today’s obesity epidemic and sedentary lifestyle, the disease is cropping up even in children.
In both types, diet and exercise are the cornerstones for treatment. People who have Type 1 must take insulin injections to replace the body’s natural insulin. With Type 2 diabetes, oral medications and/or insulin are used only when diet and exercise alone do not control the disease.
One myth is patients must eliminate all forms of refined sugar from their diet. Good diabetes management does include regulation of carbohydrates, but that’s all carbohydrates, including refined sugar.
Doctors work hard with their patients to ensure children can participate in normal childhood activities, such as eating cake at birthday parties and playing on soccer teams. The doctor does this by tailoring treatment plans to the patient’s lifestyle and adjusting insulin dosages accordingly.
Patients with Type 2 diabetes sometimes mistakenly think they can “cure” their diabetes through diet and exercise or by skipping meals and fasting, thus eliminating the need for insulin and/or medication. This dangerous assumption could cause wild fluctuations in blood glucose levels.
Good control of blood glucose levels depend on regularly scheduled, nutritious meals.
Uncontrolled diabetes may lead to a number of complications, including blindness, nerve damage, foot disorders, kidney damage, hypertension, stroke, skin infections, heart disease, gum disease, peripheral arterial disease and ketoacidosis.
However, if patients achieve good control of their blood glucose levels, many of these complications can be forestalled or prevented altogether. Good diabetes management includes weight management, regular physical activity, controlling carbohydrate intake and frequent blood glucose check.~.
Dr. Shivani Shah is a pediatric endocrinologist who treats patients at Adventist Hinsdale Hospital.