There are many common misconceptions about diabetes that persist despite evidence to the contrary. Here are the five I encounter most with my patients.
Myth #1: Insulin or pill medications are an inevitable part of the treatment for diabetes
Many people believe they will have to take medicine for the rest of their life if they are diagnosed with diabetes. This depends on the type of diabetes a person is diagnosed with. In adults, the most common forms of diabetes mellitus are type 1 and type 2. With type 1 diabetes, the body is unable to produce insulin, and taking medication (insulin injections specifically) is absolutely necessary in order to avoid life-threatening problems due to high blood sugar.
However, almost 95% of adults who are diagnosed with diabetes have the type 2 form. With type 2 diabetes, the body is usually still able to produce insulin, so the insulin injections that are necessary for treatment of type 1 diabetes are not always needed with type 2. If a person is diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, then medications can be completely avoided if lifestyle changes allow the body’s own insulin to work more effectively. Diabetes reversal and reducing or completely stopping diabetes medications are the goals of the Virta Treatment, a physician-supervised nutritional intervention supported by one-on-one health coaching, a step-by-step educational program, biomarker testing, and a patient community, all delivered through a continuous remote care platform
Myth #2: Diabetes is chronic and irreversible
At this point in time, there is no proven cure for diabetes. However, we do know that diabetes can be controlled with healthy eating habits—even to the point where diabetes medications are not needed. At Virta, we consider diabetes to be reversed if a person is able to lower his or her blood glucose (sugar) levels to below the diabetes diagnostic threshold without the use of certain diabetes medications.
It is important to note that while a person can accomplish control (or reversal) of his or her diabetes without the use of medications, this control can be lost if that person no longer sticks to a healthy diet. Medications would need to be taken in order to regain quick control of blood glucose (sugar) levels if this happens. There is no guarantee that a person who is able to come off of his or her diabetes medicines will be able to stay off of these medicines permanently, especially if he or she goes back to unhealthy eating habits.
Myth #3: Thin people don’t get diabetes
While the majority of people who are diagnosed with either diabetes or prediabetes are overweight or obese, people who are either thin or at a normal weight can certainly develop diabetes, too (Jo, 2018)!
Ethnicity is a well-known risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes, especially in African American, Latino, and Native American populations. Women who are diagnosed with gestational diabetes during pregnancy can also develop type 2 diabetes later on. Also, the risk of developing diabetes goes up as a person ages, especially for people over 40 years old. People with any these risk factors can still develop diabetes, even if they are thin or at a normal weight.
Myth #4: Prediabetes is not a problem because it isn’t the same as type 2 diabetes
Prediabetes is commonly referred to as “borderline diabetes.” It is diagnosed by a higher than normal blood glucose (sugar) level on labs, but the blood glucose level is not yet high enough to qualify for a type 2 diabetes diagnosis. Prediabetes often eventually leads to a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes if the abnormal blood glucose levels do not return to normal over time. This can happen several months or even years down the road.
While people with prediabetes do not have to deal with some of the serious complications of diabetes (such as amputations, loss of vision, and kidney problems), being diagnosed with prediabetes still puts a person at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. In addition, doctors may recommend that certain people with prediabetes begin taking a medication called metformin in order to try to prevent or slow down progression to type 2 diabetes. When a person is diagnosed with prediabetes, weight loss, regular exercise, and healthy eating habits are always recommended as ways to lower the risk of developing these problems.
Myth #5: You have to have symptoms in order to be diagnosed with diabetes
Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes can cause symptoms such as feeling thirsty, urinating often, extreme fatigue, and hunger. However, not all people with diabetes have these symptoms, or any symptoms at all. This is especially true for type 2 diabetes.
Because type 2 diabetes can be present for several months to years without any noticeable symptoms, the diagnosis and treatment can become delayed if a person does not see his or her doctor on a regular basis. The longer the diabetes goes unrecognized and untreated, then the risk of developing serious complications of diabetes (such as amputations, loss of vision, and kidney problems) becomes much higher. Diabetes is easily diagnosed on routine labs long before any symptoms can occur. Because diabetes is so common, doctors routinely screen people for this condition, even when they are being seen for other reasons (such as a cough, a cold, or allergies).
Don’t fall for these diabetes myths! Talk to your doctor today if you have any questions or concerns about your risk of diabetes.