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Wellness & Prevention

Debunking 15 common myths about diabetes

Local experts set the record straight on what you've heard about diabetes
By Anne Stein
Well Community contributor

More than 25 million Americans have diabetes, and another 70 million are at risk for developing it. Those are the facts.

Unfortunately, when it comes to diabetes, Americans don’t just get the facts. We are often inundated with myths about this serious, sometimes deadly, condition.These misconceptions can get in the way of prevention and treatment, according to Certified Diabetes Educator Debbie Davis, RN, MS of Swedish Covenant Hospital’s Diabetes Community Center.

Davis is on a mission to set the record straight about the top 15 myths they encounter, and the facts that should replace them:

1. Myth: I don’t need to visit my doctor -- I’ll know if I have diabetes.
Fact: By the time you notice the disease’s three main symptoms – excessive thirst, urination and hunger – you may have had diabetes for five to seven years.

2. Myth: I can’t be diabetic because my parents weren’t diabetic.
Fact: Your parents could be carrying the gene and pass it on to you, or it could be further back in your genetic history than you know.

3. Myth: I can’t be diabetic because it always skips a generation and one of my parents has it.
Fact: If the gene is present, you can get it. Your lifestyle -- diet, exercise -- also influences your chance of getting it.

4. Myth: I’m too young to get diabetes!
Fact: Diabetes affects people of all ages.

5. Myth: If I take insulin, I don’t have to worry about my diet.
Fact: Insulin works with the food you take in. You must keep track of your carbohydrates to control the disease. 

6. Myth: If I use insulin once, I’ll always have to use insulin.
Fact: If you’re a Type 2 diabetic, your body might not always need insulin. You may be able to get your diabetes under control. People with type 1 diabetes must take insulin to stay alive because their pancreas doesn’t produce enough (or any) insulin.

7. Myth: Insulin can cause heart attacks.
Fact: Insulin doesn’t cause chronic complications. High blood sugar, however, can cause serious health issues including stroke, heart attack, nerve damage, depression and kidney disease.

8. Myth: If I get diabetes, I want to use the insulin pill or inhaled insulin.
Fact: Right now, insulin’s only available via injection. Insulin pills can’t survive in your stomach and several insulin inhalers are currently in clinical trials but aren’t FDA approved.

9. Myth: Occasional high blood sugar isn’t harmful.
Fact: Any time sugar is high it can cause problems.

10. Myth: If I lose weight I’ll cure my diabetes.
Fact: There’s no cure for diabetes, but losing weight, exercising and eating right can put it into remission.

11. Myth: I can’t eat sweets if I have diabetes.
Fact: Sugar breaks down into glucose, just like any other carbohydrate you take in (like bread or fruit). As with any food, moderation and portion control are key.

12. Myth: Honey and agave nectar are better for me than table sugar.
Fact: All sugars end up as glucose in the body. All have very little nutritional value and the calories, especially in sugary beverages, can add up fast – no matter what type of sugar you’re using.

13. Myth: Certain foods can help cure diabetes.
Fact: Cactus, bitter melon and cinnamon are often called “cures” but at this point, there’s no cure for diabetes. Losing weight, eating sensibly and exercise will help contol it, however.

14. Myth: Fruit juice is better for me than soda.
Fact: Fruit juice has lots of calories and simple sugar and can have the same effect on your blood sugar as soda. Eat the whole fruit, rather than juice, to get the benefits of fiber and water in fruit.

15. Myth: If you have diabetes, you should avoid eating ‘white foods.’
Fact: There are plenty of nutrient-packed ‘white foods.’ White potatoes are great sources of Vitamin C and potassium. Cucumbers and cauliflower are healthy too – just to name a few.

Have more questions about diabetes? Contact the Diabetes Community Center, 5157 N. Francisco Ave., Chicago, IL. Phone: 773-989-2596. For appointments: 773-878-6888.