Debunking five common myths about diabetes

We learn about five common myths about diabetes and how they are debunked.

With millions affected worldwide, diabetes remains one of the leading health concerns of our era. However, alongside genuine information, a great deal of misconceptions surrounds this condition.

Over the past decade, South Africa has seen diabetes cases double, reaching 4.2 million, which equates to one in nine adults. Shockingly, 45% remain undiagnosed. As per the International Diabetes Federation’s latest data, it’s now the leading cause of death among South African women and the second highest for both genders.

Understanding diabetes

Diabetes is a complex condition arising from multiple causes. At its core, it’s characterised by the body’s inability to produce or effectively use insulin, a hormone essential for regulating blood sugar.

Type 1 diabetes, often diagnosed in childhood, is an autoimmune condition where the body attacks insulin-producing cells. Its exact cause is unclear but is believed to involve genetic, environmental, and possibly viral factors.

Type 2 diabetes is more common in adults and is caused by insulin resistance and insufficient insulin production. It’s linked to genetics, obesity, poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, and age.

Gestational diabetes affects pregnant women and may increase the risk of Type 2 later in life.

Signs and symptoms

The warning signs of diabetes can be so mild that they go unnoticed. Some common symptoms include:

Increased thirst and urination: High blood glucose levels cause the kidneys to work harder to filter and absorb excess sugar, leading to frequent urination. This can result in dehydration and a consequent increase in thirst.

Unexplained weight loss: Despite eating more, rapid weight loss can occur as the body uses muscle and fat for energy because it can’t use sugar effectively.

Hunger: Fluctuating blood glucose can increase appetite, even after meals.

Fatigue: Insufficient glucose in the cells can cause tiredness and lack of energy.

Blurred vision: High blood glucose levels can lead to fluid being pulled from the eyes’ lenses, affecting the ability to focus.

Slow healing: Sores, cuts, and bruises may take longer.

Tingling or numbness: High blood glucose can cause diabetic neuropathy, leading to tingling or numbness in the extremities, especially feet and hands.

Darkened skin patches: Areas of darkened skin, called acanthosis nigricans, can appear, particularly in the neck and armpits.

Debunking the myths

         Myth: Overeating sugar causes diabetes.

Reality: The causes of diabetes are multi-factorial. While consuming too much sugar, especially in drinks that contain added sucrose and fructose, such as sodas, is linked to an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes, eating moderate amounts of sugar in isolation does not trigger diabetes.

Myth: Only overweight individuals get diabetes.

Reality: While obesity is a significant risk factor for Type 2 diabetes, accounting for 80 – 85% of the risk, many overweight people never develop the condition. Conversely, a fair number of those with average weight can become diabetic. Factors like family history, age, and ethnicity also influence risk.

Myth: People with diabetes should avoid all carbohydrates.

Reality: Carbohydrates are essential to a healthy diet, even for those with diabetes. The key is to opt for complex carbohydrates like whole grains, vegetables, and fruits, which have a lower glycemic index and are processed more slowly by the body.

Myth: Diabetes is not a severe disease.

Reality: If not managed well, diabetes can lead to chronic health complications such as heart disease, stroke, kidney damage, and vision problems. Effective control of blood glucose levels and regular check-ups are paramount to prevent complications.

Myth: Once you start insulin, your condition has worsened.

Reality: Insulin is a standard treatment for people with Type 1 diabetes and can be prescribed for Type 2 diabetes if other methods don’t control blood glucose adequately. It’s a crucial step in the treatment process, not an indication of disease progression.

*This article is attributed to Affinity Health. 

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