The 2014 National Diabetes Statistics Report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that 29 million adult Americans have diabetes – a number that's risen by 3 million since 2010.
Another 86 million adults who are at least 20 years old (1 in 3) are pre-diabetic. Fifteen to 30 percent will go on to develop Type 2 diabetes within five years.
And among Americans who are younger than 20 years old, about 208,000 have either Type 1 diabetes or Type 2 diabetes.
Both types of diabetes are serious diseases. But in order to understand Type 2 diabetes better – and to better address prevention and treatment – we need to toss out the myths and misconceptions that surround it and zero in on the truth.
Six Misconceptions vs. Facts About Type 2 Diabetes
Misconception 1: Obesity and laziness cause diabetes.
Fact: Obesity and lack of exercise can be risk factors for Type 2 diabetes, but they don’t cause it. In Type 2 diabetes, the body can no longer make or use the hormone insulin properly. This causes glucose (sugar) from the foods you eat to build up to damaging levels in the bloodstream. Genetics can also be involved: Thin people get Type 2 diabetes too.
A healthful diet that’s rich in vegetables and protein; includes whole-grain breads, cereals and pastas; and limits carbohydrates – particularly in foods made from processed white flour – helps to control body weight and normalize blood glucose levels.
Misconception 2: You won’t always have diabetes; your doctor can cure it.
Fact: Diabetes (of either type) is incurable; once you have it, you will always have it. But you can keep your diabetes under control with diet, exercise and medications so that you can live an otherwise normal life with minimum damage.
Misconception 3: You can’t prevent diabetes.
Fact: Eating a healthful diet and getting daily physical activity can prevent almost 80 percent of Type 2 diabetes cases.
Misconception 4: You can feel when your blood sugar is too high or low.
Fact: The only sure way to know that your blood glucose level is high or low is to test it. Low blood sugar might make you feel shaky, dizzy or lightheaded, but you might also be coming down with the flu. High blood sugar might make you urinate frequently, but a bladder infection can cause the same symptom. You can’t trust your feelings with diabetes.
Misconception 5: When you have diabetes, you can’t eat sweets.
Fact: Yes, you can eat sweets with diabetes, just like anyone who eats a healthful diet can. But when you’re diabetic, to keep your blood sugar under control, you must balance any sweet treats against everything else you’re eating that day, limiting the other carbs you eat and working in some extra exercise.
And if your blood glucose drops too low, you must eat or drink something sugary to raise it back up to normal levels.
Misconception 6: If you eat right and exercise, monitor your blood sugar, and take your meds or insulin correctly, you can keep your diabetes under tight control.
Fact: That’s the best way to control your diabetes, but there are other factors involved as well. Illness, injuries, stress, hormone changes and periods of growth can cause blood glucose levels to go out of control, even when you do everything else right. Controlling diabetes isn’t always easy.