As Diabetes Week (12th – 18th June) approaches, countless myths still surround diabetes the condition. Here, we aim to remove the fiction from some of the facts.
“Of course, if you’ve got diabetes, you won’t be able to do any sport,” says the man in the pub. “It’s a well-known fact.”
No it’s not. But did you know that Sir Steve Redgrave, widely regarded as Britain’s greatest-ever Olympian, was diagnosed with diabetes in 19971? And that was before he won his fifth Olympic Gold in 2000 and his final two World Championship Golds (in 1998 and 1999).
It seems unlikely that, even without diabetes, the man in the pub could match that – the reality is that exercise enables people to burn calories and improve blood flow, both of which help people with diabetes absorb glucose more efficiently.
You could politely correct him, but the likelihood is that he’ll come back with another well-worn myth relating to this increasingly common but much-misunderstood condition. “Well, it’s certainly true that people with diabetes will go blind…”
Wrong again. It is true that diabetes is the UK’s leading cause of blindness among working-age people. But if you’re sensible with your diet and exercise, keeping your blood pressure, glucose and blood-fat levels under control, you can significantly reduce the risk not only of damaging your eyes but also of suffering other diabetes-related complications.
“Oh well,” he might say as a last resort. “That’s only for people with Type 2 diabetes. It’s much milder than Type 1…”
Which is worse? Type 1 or 2?
Once again –– you can put him right. All diabetes is potentially dangerous, whether it’s the Type 1 that some people are born with or the Type 2 that some can develop later in life. Those with Type 1 cannot produce the hormone insulin, which breaks down the glucose our body produces to fuel its cells. Instead, sufferers need to inject insulin and undergo careful management of their blood sugar levels as well as abiding by special dietary and exercise regimes. Sufferers of Type 2 either produce insufficient insulin or are resistant to it. Again, diet and exercise are important, particularly in relation to preventing obesity, although drugs might be necessary in more advanced cases.
In other words, anybody diagnosed with diabetes needs to take the condition seriously, often having to adjust their lifestyles to meet the new circumstances under which they have to live.
One of those circumstances might well be the need to put up with a range of ill-informed opinions, prejudices and myths that range from the amusing to the irritating and, in some cases, the downright dangerous. Any idea that Type 2 diabetes is not a serious condition, for example, could have extremely serious consequences.
Myths around diet
Nearly as dangerous is the belief that diabetics should not eat any sugar.
It is true that people who have diabetes should follow a balanced diet, low in fat, salt and sugar. However, this often leads people to think that diabetic people must go cold turkey and shouldn’t even eat sweet-tasting fruit like grapes, mangoes or bananas.
The reality is quite different – fruit is incredibly healthy, low in fat and high in fibre, vitamins and minerals. Believing this myth could actually mean missing out on some of the best possible foods, not to mention lowering your protection against heart disease and certain cancers.
Another potentially dangerous myth is that people with diabetes should eat foods labelled ‘diabetic’; the reality is that such labels are generally slapped on to cakes, biscuits, chocolates and other foods that might be low in sugar but tend to be high in fat and calories. Diabetes UK does not recommend eating 'diabetic' foods, including diabetic chocolate, because they still affect your blood glucose levels, they are expensive and they can give you diarrhoea. No one is forcing you to eat them – and if you occasionally crave a treat, it might be preferable (and more satisfying) to indulge (in moderation) in the real thing.
Myth around restrictions
There is a persistent belief that people with diabetes are not safe to drive. However, provided your condition is under control and your doctor states that you are safe to drive, there is no reason why you cannot have a driving licence.2
In a similar vein, another myth claims that if you have diabetes you can’t do certain jobs. Again, the reality is somewhat different – just ask Sir Steve, who has surely provided the ultimate proof that people who take the right approach to living with the condition can be at least as mentally and physically active as anybody else. This makes it all the more galling that the UK armed forces can still enforce an all-out ban on employing people with diabetes3 – myths clearly persist further afield than the pub.
What is certainly not a myth is that people with diabetes should take their condition seriously and aim to lead as healthy a lifestyle as possible. Plenty of advice and guidance is available, but make sure you only get information from a reliable source, such as the specialist Diabetes UK charity.
Find out more about managing your condition and the diabetes treatments available. Alternatively, if you’re worried that you’re in danger of developing diabetes or would simply like to have a detailed health check, book a health screening appointment today.
To book your consultation call us on 0808 101 0337 or make an online enquiry.