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Dr. Bill's Commentaries

A double take on diabetes myths and misconceptions   (November 15, 2009)

A recent news story described 6 Common Myths and Misconceptions About Diabetes. In the article, Sue McLaughlin, president of healthcare and education at the American Diabetes Association, listed “the six most common myths and misconceptions about diabetes” and gave a detailed commentary on each. But her list, in my opinion, contains a mixture of truths, part-truths, and even some misconceptions.

Lets run through the list from a different point of view than presented in the news story, then restate her statements to make them into truisms:

Diabetes is not that serious.

I would argue that this statement, simply put like this, is true. Few people, mostly children with ketoacidosis, or adults with complications, need to be hospitalized to care for it, and most people with diabetes live decades – sometimes over half a century – with the diagnosis.

What could have been said to make a true statement:

Diabetes is not that serious, but the complications of diabetes are not only serious, they’re deadly. Whether it’s blindness from retinopathy, death from myocardial infarction, need for kidney transplant, or amputation of a gangrenous foot, it’s mistreatment of diabetes that can be a disaster. Tight control of blood sugar levels has been repeatedly shown to decrease complications.

Eating too much sugar causes diabetes.

Being overweight causes diabetes.

Although both statements are false, they ignore the obvious: eating too much of anything causes obesity, which is the leading correlate with the epidemic of type 2 diabetes.

What could have been said to make a true statement:

Eating too much is associated with the development of obesity. Obesity is very strongly correlated with the development of type 2 diabetes.

Having diabetes means you must eat foods that are different from everyone else's.

This statement, as I read it, is one-hundred percent, absolutely, completely true! The foods that people with diabetes should eat should indeed be different - different from the excessive amounts of junk foods and unbalanced meals that the typical American consumes. (Of course, since we’re looking at these statements from a different point of view, one could argue that everyone’s diet should be changed!)

What could have been said to make a true statement:

Having diabetes means that you will be strongly encouraged to eat healthful foods that everyone else should also be eating.

A diabetes diagnosis means you automatically need insulin.

Yes, this is completely true; having diabetes means you need insulin -- and for that matter, everybody needs insulin! Of course, some folks make their own in sufficient amounts, while others need supplementation.

What could have been said to make a true statement:

A diagnosis of type 1 diabetes means you automatically need supplemental insulin by injection, pump, inhalation, or beta-cell transplant. Most other forms of diabetes can be reasonably well controlled without insulin for years, but sooner-or-later, insulin supplementation will be needed.

Only older people get diabetes.

The accuracy of this statement is based both on the definition of “older” as well as the definition of “diabetes".

What could have been said to make a true statement:

Children and teenagers may develop either type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Adults may develop type 1, or LADA, or type 2 diabetes; older adults are more likely to develop type 2 rather than type 1 or LADA.

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Dr. Bill Quick began writing at HealthCentral's diabetes website in November, 2006. These essays are reproduced at D-is-for-Diabetes with the permission of HealthCentral.

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