Fit for the Road

Carolyn Mason | September 01, 2010

9 Myth-Busting Facts about Diabetes

Diabetes is a serious disease surrounded by myths and misconceptions that distort the true nature of the illness. There is no “cure” for the estimated 23.6 million people in the United States who have diabetes, 5.7 million of whom are unaware of their condition, and the 57 million people who have pre-diabetes. Truckers with diabetes or pre-diabetes may feel overwhelmed by the misinformation, stereotypes and myths about the disease

What is diabetes?

According to the American Diabetes Association, diabetes is a group of diseases characterized by high blood glucose levels that result from defects in the body’s ability to produce and/or use insulin. There are three types of diabetes, type 1 (previously known as Juvenile diabetes and requires insulin) type 2 and gestational diabetes (develops late in pregnancy).

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes and is of the most concern to truckers. In this condition, either the body does not produce enough insulin or the cells ignore the insulin. Insulin is necessary for the body to be able to use glucose for energy.

There’s plenty of misinformation out there, and Truckers News asked experts in the treatment and prevention of diabetes to refute some common myths about diabetes.

1. Myth: I have diabetes and there’s nothing I can do to change that.

Fact: Dr. Amy Kahn, the National Medical Director for Concentra TotalCare says most cases of type 2 diabetes can be controlled through proper diet, regular exercise, lowering stress and keeping the body’s blood sugar down. The only way to control type 2 diabetes is to make permanent lifestyle changes that include maintaining a healthy weight, frequent physical activity, a healthy carb-conscious diet, reducing stress and taking prescribed medications. According to the National Institutes of Health, some simple lifestyle changes can help reduce the complications of diabetes by about 60 percent.

2. Myth: Diabetics have to eat special “diabetic” food.

Fact: The truth is, foods labeled “diabetic friendly” can actually be misleading and confusing. Constance Brown-Riggs, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and author of The African American Guide To Living Well With Diabetes, says the good news is a person with diabetes can manage his or her blood glucose successfully without eating special food. All too often people presume if it’s “diabetic friendly” they can eat all they want. The key is portion control, particularly with carbohydrate-containing foods — which have the greatest impact on blood glucose levels.

3. Myth: Diabetes is contagious

Fact: Diabetes is not contagious. According to the American Diabetes Association, diabetes is a disease relating to high levels of glucose in the bloodstream. People cannot “catch it” from other people; it is a genetic condition but can also develop due to poor health habits.

4. Myth: Exercise won’t help me with my diabetes, so why should I bother?

Fact: “It is essential to consult with your doctor before you begin an exercise routine to control blood sugar and reduce the risk of heart disease and nerve damage,” says Suzanne Andrews, occupational therapist, host and producer of Functional Fitness on PBS TV and Functional Fitness Diabetes DVD. Andrews recommends people with diabetes or pre-diabetes exercise at least 30 minutes a day. “The benefits include more control over your glucose and lower risk of complications because it stimulates the functioning of insulin.” Knowing which activities to avoid is as important as identifying the beneficial ones. Do not allow your symptoms to discourage you from staying active. “Having treated thousands of patients with diabetes, I never heard a patient who’s had a limb amputation or blindness say, ‘If I could go back in time, I would just sit around and not do anything to control my diabetes,’” Andrews says.

5. Myth: People with diabetes can’t eat carbs or starchy foods.

Fact: “People need carbs to exist,” says Christen Cooper, a registered dietitian and owner of Cooper Nutrition. “Carbohydrates are the first source of energy for the body. However, not all carbs are created equal, and the carbs in a piece of whole wheat bread have vastly different nutritional values from those in a doughnut,” Cooper says.

The American Diabetes Association recommends whole grain breads, cereals, pasta, rice and starchy vegetables like potatoes, yams, peas and corn be included in your meals and snacks, but they have to be in controlled portions.

6. Myth: If you are diabetic, you can’t ever eat sweets again.

Fact: You can enjoy the occasional sweet treat. Cooper says you must discuss this with your physician because every person has a different way of balancing blood sugar.

7. Myth: Insulin cures diabetes

Fact: “Not true,” says cardiovascular surgeon Dr. Frederic J. Vagnini, author of The Weight Loss Plan for Beating Diabetes “Insulin treats diabetes, it doesn’t cure it!”

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