Diabetes Myths & Legends
Myth, mɪθ, noun
A widely held but false belief or idea, "the belief that diabetics can’t drive is a myth"
Legend, lɛdʒ(ə)nd, noun
An extremely famous or notorious person, especially in a particular field. "Sir Steve Redgrave is a living legend"
People in general, and the ‘most severe’ sufferers of Type Zero Diabetes in particular, seem to have a whole range of crazy ideas about diabetes. Here we try and put some of the myths to bed, but also highlight those diabetics who have not let their disease stand in their way one little bit – diabetic legends.
MYTH: Diabetics can’t eat sugar
Seems to make sense if you’re a man in the street, doesn't it? “You have a problem with sugar, so stay away from it”.
The thing is, because diabetics have this problem with sugar, they have to take insulin or metformin to deal with it. Sometimes those drugs are a bit too effective, and guess what? Then a diabetic might need sugar!
It’s true to say that sweet foods and drinks are likely to spike your glucose levels. Having high blood sugar levels over a long period of time isn’t good for diabetics (or anyone come to that).
If they’re Type One and they've taken enough insulin to cover the amount of carbohydrate there’s nothing wrong with eating sweet things every now and then.
Similarly, if they’re Type 2 and they don’t eat sweet things regularly then it won’t be a problem.
In short, diabetics can eat sugar (and sometimes have to!)
Legend: Steve Redgrave
As the Greatest Olympian of All Time would know, having something sweet to hand if you’re diabetic and you’re exercising isn’t just about maintaining peak performance. Generally-speaking, the more cardiovascular exercise you take, the more your glucose will drop. Could Sir Steve have won five consecutive Olympic Gold Medals without a bit of sugar on his side? I doubt it.
MYTH: Only fat people get Type 2 Diabetes
In spite of the media’s obsession with obesity, just being fat will not make you a Type 2 diabetic. Type Two occurs when you’ve stopped responding to your own home-grown insulin, when you’ve become resistant.
Obesity is a risk factor: it shows that you’ve probably got used to making a lot of insulin over the years, and that the cells may have started to become resistant. However, this does not mean that people who eat a lot ‘have brought Type 2 Diabetes on themselves’. You can just become resistant to insulin: around a fifth of Type 2 Diabetics are a normal weight or under.
Also it’s possible that being an untreated Type 2 may actually cause you to gain weight. The more resistant to insulin you become, the less energy you will feel you have, as a smaller proportion of the carbohydrate you eat can be transported into the cells. This will probably lead you to eat more, which will eventually lead to obesity.
So no, not only fat people get Type 2 Diabetes. And in fact, being overweight could be as much as a symptom as a cause.
Legend: Halle Berry
Sometimes people can be forgiven for getting Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes mixed up. Not only do a large percentage of Type 2s end up taking insulin (around 40%) but also even doctors can supposedly get the diagnosis wrong! Halle Berry was initially diagnosed as Type 1, but after she controversially stopped taking insulin (not an idea endorsed by Joe’s Diabetes or anyone else come to that) and survived (!), she was rediagnosed as Type 2. Is she fat? Is she held back by complications to her heart or feet? Doesn't look like it to me.
MYTH: Diabetics will go blind and lose their legs
Bit of a scary one, isn't it? Well, let’s start by saying there is no “will”. Because you are diabetic does not mean you “will” go blind or lose your leg. However, it’s worth remembering that if you don’t look after yourself bad things can happen. Unfortunately for a number of people that is true: diabetes is the leading cause of adult blindness and amputations in the UK.
If you look after yourself though, if you manage your glucose levels well, control your blood pressure, make sure you don’t weigh too much, and stop smoking, then the chances are you’ll be fine. And to make sure you’re doing a good job, you should go to your regular clinical check with your diabetes healthcare team.
Legend: Bret Michaels
OK, so may be he’s not the greatest of diabetic role models considering the extremes he’s meant to have put his body through over the years fronting Poison. However, Brett Michaels proves you don’t have to live like a saint if you’re diabetic and want to avoid complications. He’s almost 52, and has been the lead singer of a rock band for the last 30 years, but he’s still doing OK. In other words: complications aren’t a necessary part of living with diabetes even after a long time of managing it.