10 Myths About Diabetes

  • portrait-of-smiling-doctor
    Dispelling Stereotypes, Stigmas and Misconceptions
    Diabetes affects 30.3 million people in the United States or about 9.4% of the population. Type 2 diabetes makes up 90 to 95% of this number. Inaccurate information about the disease leads to stereotypes and stigmas that affect many people. And people with type 2 diabetes may be confused about what to believe and not believe about their disease. Learn some common myths—and the facts—about one of America's most common chronic diseases.

  • Overhead view of muffin tin with cups filled with different types of sugar
    Myth #1: Eating too much sugar causes type 2 diabetes.
    FACT: Experts don't fully understand what causes type 2 diabetes. In type 2 diabetes, the body becomes resistant to insulin or doesn't produce enough insulin. Insulin is the hormone that helps cells use blood sugar—or glucose—for energy. In either case, blood sugar levels start to rise because insulin isn't working properly. The result is diabetes. Healthy eating—limiting fat, sugar, salt and cholesterol—is an important part of staying healthy for all adults.

  • calipers-on-stomach
    Myth #2: Only overweight or obese people develop type 2 diabetes.
    FACT: Certain risk factors make it more likely for someone to develop type 2 diabetes. Being overweight or obese is one of them. But being overweight or obese doesn't necessarily mean someone will develop type 2 diabetes. That's because there are other risk factors. This includes having a family history of the disease, being over age 40, and being of African American, Hispanic, Native American, Asian American, or Pacific Islander descent.

  • Discussing symptoms with doctor
    Myth #3: Type 2 diabetes always causes symptoms.
    FACT: Symptoms of type 2 diabetes may develop slowly. In fact, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) estimates that about 7 of the 30 million people with the disease don't even know they have it. When symptoms do develop, people may not recognize them right away because they are mild or vague. The telltale symptoms of type 2 diabetes are increased urination, thirst and hunger. Other symptoms include weight loss and fatigue; slow-healing wounds and blurred vision typically occur later in the disease.

  • senior couple walking
    Myth #4: Prediabetes is nothing to worry about.
    FACT: You either have diabetes or you don't. Doctors diagnose diabetes using several tests. Each test has cutoffs for normal, diabetes and prediabetes. Having prediabetes puts you at very high risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The good news is that you can do something about it. Research suggests that you can cut your risk by 58% if you lose 7% of your body weight and exercise moderately for 30 minutes a day, five days a week.

  • Kidney Failure
    Myth #5: Type 2 diabetes is not as serious as type 1 diabetes.
    FACT: Left uncontrolled, both types of diabetes can cause serious complications and even be deadly. Diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death in the United States. It's also a major cause of disability. Complications include kidney disease, vision loss, neuropathy, amputations, heart attack, and stroke. Fortunately, controlling and managing type 2 diabetes can help prevent or delay these complications.

  • Bowl of food
    Myth #6: People with type 2 diabetes don't need insulin.
    FACT: For most people, type 2 diabetes is a progressive disease. Many people manage type 2 diabetes with healthy eating, plenty of exercise, weight loss, and oral medicines. As the disease progresses, most people eventually need insulin. Starting insulin for type 2 diabetes does not mean you have failed to manage your disease. It means your disease is changing. Experts recognized this when they changed the name from "non-insulin dependent diabetes" to "type 2 diabetes."

  • Taking medicine
    Myth #7: Type 2 diabetes can be cured.
    FACT: There is no cure for type 2 diabetes. The disease is controllable with lifestyle changes, oral medicines, and insulin. In some cases, people have been able to return their blood glucose levels to normal and stop their medicines. Doctors refer to this as remission instead of cure because the risk of relapse is very high. People have achieved remission through sustained weight loss, healthy eating, and making physical activity part of their daily routine. There have also been remissions with weight-loss—or bariatric—surgery.

  • grains
    Myth #8: People with type 2 diabetes can't eat sugar, sweets or starches.
    FACT: Glucose—or blood sugar—comes from carbohydrates. Starches, fruits, sugar, alcohol, and even grains contain carbohydrates or carbs. The key to eating carbs with type 2 diabetes is portion control. There are many methods of counting and managing the amount of carbs. Working with a registered dietitian is vital to understanding carb control and successfully managing it. With proper portion control, no foods should be off limits.

  • veggies
    Myth #9: People with type 2 diabetes have to eat a special diet.
    FACT: Eating diabetic or dietetic foods is not necessary. In fact, these foods may cause digestive problems and they are expensive. Instead, people with type 2 diabetes should eat a healthy diet. This includes limiting fat, cholesterol and salt. It also means eating fresh vegetables, fresh fruits, and whole grains. It can even mean eating dessert in moderation and offsetting it with exercise. Your dietitian can help you attain your goals for healthy eating without any special foods.

  • Who Gets Atrial Fibrillation?
    Myth #10: People with type 2 diabetes can't lead an active life.
    FACT: Leading an active life is vital to controlling type 2 diabetes. In fact, exercise can help your muscles take up and use glucose independent of insulin. Exercise also increases insulin sensitivity so your cells can use insulin better. People with type 2 diabetes should make exercise part of their daily routine. Work with your diabetes care team to develop a program that is safe for you. This is especially important for people who already have complications from diabetes.

10 Myths About Diabetes

About The Author

Sarah Lewis is a pharmacist and a medical writer with over 25 years of experience in various areas of pharmacy practice. Sarah holds a Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy degree from West Virginia University and a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from Massachusetts College of Pharmacy. She completed Pharmacy Practice Residency training at the University of Pittsburgh/VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System. 
  1. Buse JB, Caprio S, Cefalu WT, et al. How Do We Define Cure of Diabetes? Diabetes Care. 2009;32(11):2133-5.
  2. Blood Glucose Control and Exercise. American Diabetes Association. http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/fitness/get-started-safely/blood-glucose-control-and-exerci...
  3. Diabetes Basics. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/index.html
  4. Diabetes Myths. American Diabetes Association. http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/myths/ 
  5. Diagnosing Diabetes and Learning About Prediabetes. American Diabetes Association. http://www.diabetes.org/are-you-at-risk/prediabetes/?loc=atrisk-slabnav
  6. National Diabetes Statistics Report, 2017. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/data/statistics/statistics-report.html
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Last Review Date: 2019 May 16
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