The biggest diabetes myths debunked

Despite how common the condition is; diabetes is often misunderstood, especially by those who are not personally experiencing it.

Your knowledge may be limited to being aware that diabetes has something to do with sugar, your diet, weight and insulin. These details are relevant but, picking up on only certain bits of information without the full picture has lead people to create some common but totally inaccurate beliefs about diabetes.

This week is Diabetes Awareness Week, which is dedicated to helping people get a better understanding of how exactly the condition can affect people. We’ve already discussed in detail how the condition develops and is treated in another blog, but here we are going to focus more on the common misunderstandings about diabetes. Here’s a look at ten common myths about diabetes and why they are not true.

Myth: People with diabetes can’t eat or drink anything with sugar

One of the most common myths surrounding diabetes is the idea that patients must have a sugar-free diet. But diabetes patients are not destined to live in a world without chocolate, cakes, ice cream or doughnuts in their life. Far from it!

People with diabetes need to eat a diet that is balanced, which can include some sugar in moderation. Ideally, a diabetic will eat a range of foods that are high in nutrition such as fruit, vegetables, fatty fish, nuts, seeds, lean meat and eggs. A sugary snack or fizzy drink from time to time is possible too, but discipline will be required to keep blood sugar levels in check.

Myth: Type 2 diabetes is a ‘mild’ form of diabetes

There are two distinct types of diabetes which are called Type 1 and Type 2. With type 1 diabetes, your body can’t produce any insulin at all, meaning there’s nothing to remove glucose from the bloodstream.

Type 2 diabetes is far more common than type 1, affecting around 90% of diabetic patients. With type 2, the body can produce some insulin, but because it either doesn’t work effectively or is insufficient, glucose still builds up in the bloodstream.

Because the pancreas can still produce some insulin, some may describe type 2 diabetes as ‘mild’. But to describe any form of diabetes as mild is misleading and it should always be treated as very serious. If type 2 diabetes is managed poorly, it can lead to serious and even life-threatening health complications.

Myth: Eating too much sugar is what causes diabetes

Sugar is not a specific culprit to blame if someone is diagnosed with diabetes. Type 1 diabetes can be experienced from birth and it’s believed to be linked to an autoimmune condition which causes the body to attack cells which make insulin.

A diet high in calories from any source (including sugar) contributes to weight gain and gaining weight increases the risk of type 2 diabetes. So sugar can to some extent lead to getting diabetes but it’s never the sole contributory factor.

Myth: Only fat people can get Type 2 diabetes

Checking waistline for diabetes

A poor diet and being overweight can greatly increase your risk of getting type 2 diabetes, but it’s wrong to assume that only those who are overweight experience the condition. Also, if you are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes when you are overweight and you lose a lot of weight later on, then this will help with managing your condition but it won’t automatically make diabetes disappear like magic.

It’s estimated that around 20% of people in the UK who have type 2 diabetes are of normal weight or underweight.

Myth: People with diabetes always need to carry insulin injections

You may have seen a diabetic person carry injections/shots with them containing insulin and assumed that is something all patients do. However, only those with type 1 diabetes (and some with type 2) have to administer insulin to themselves. This is often achieved with injections, known as insulin pens, or by using an insulin pump. The latter is used exclusively by type 1 patients.

Most type 2 diabetes patients do not need to carry insulin injections around with them. Instead, the condition will initially be treated with exercise, weight loss and a healthy diet. If these actions prove insufficient, then medications either oral or injected may be prescribed.

Myth: People with diabetes will go blind and lose a leg

Diabetes can lead to blindness and amputations if it’s not treated soon enough or in an adequate manner. But such dire symptoms are not an inevitability.

Undertaking exercise and a diet routine which controls blood pressure, glucose and weight all increase a patient’s chances of remaining complication-free (quitting smoking helps a lot too). Attending annual diabetic health checks also make patients aware of how well their body is currently coping with the condition.

Myth: Having diabetes means you can’t drive safely

One of the common myths about people with diabetes is that it’s dangerous for them to drive. This is based on a generalisation that diabetics could experience hypoglycaemia, where glucose levels become too low and symptoms such as dizziness and confusion occur.

However, hypoglycaemia is preventable and the vast majority of diabetes patients who are at risk of experiencing it will take measures to avoid it happening while they're behind the wheel.

Myth: Having diabetes means you can’t play sport

Another common myth is that having diabetes prohibits you from playing sport, but many athletes have been able to partake in high-level sports contests while living with the condition. Olympic rowing legend Steve Redgrave is one example. He won the fifth of his five Olympic gold medals just a few years after being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes patients are encouraged to exercise regularly as part of a healthy lifestyle which will keep the condition in check, so partaking in sports is certainly worth thinking about if you need to manage the condition. Some considerations may need to be taken into account before starting a new exercise regime, so it’s worth consulting your doctor or healthcare team to understand the best preparation.

Myth: People with diabetes can’t do certain jobs

Having diabetes does not prevent you from having a job and thanks to the variety of treatments available and the improvements made to them over the years, the list of jobs diabetics are ineligible for is very small.

It is illegal in the UK for an employer to operate a blanket ban on the recruitment of people with diabetes. There used to be a blanket ban on roles in the emergency services, but this is no longer in place, though candidates will still have to go through an individual medical assessment to determine they can carry out the job.

One area where diabetics may face employment restrictions is in the UK armed forces, which is allowed to block people with certain health conditions like diabetes from entering certain roles. But while a diabetic may be unable to enter front line service or a similar role, other positions in the armed forces will be accessible.

Myth: People with diabetes are more likely to be ill

There’s a myth that people with diabetes are more likely than people who don’t have the condition to catch colds and other illnesses. There are no studies which prove conclusively that having diabetes increases your risk of catching other illnesses.

Other illnesses can prove a worry if you do catch them and your diabetic. Being ill can make the management of blood glucose levels more difficult, and this problem can increase the severity of an illness or infection or increase the amount of time they last compared to non-diabetic people.

How common is diabetes and how is it treated?

Diabetes is a condition which millions of people in the UK live with. Many more are either at risk of developing diabetes or they’re pre-diabetic. Earlier this year, the charity group Diabetes UK reported that there are 4.7 million diabetic people in this country.

On a positive note, there are all sorts of treatment programmes which patients can follow nowadays to deal with their condition effectively and there are numerous medications available too. Some of the medications which treat diabetes are available to order now on online pharmacies including Doctor-4-U.