A diabetes epidemic is sweeping across the globe with current estimates suggesting over 285 million people around the world have diabetes. Due to ageing populations, in particular, and changes in dietary habits, it is forecast that diabetes sufferers will number over 430 million by 2030. The sheer size of the problem is outstripping the capacity of many countries’ health systems to cope with the deluge of diabetes-stricken patients.
Along with the realization of this massive health problem facing nations around the world there are many myths and misunderstandings surrounding type 2 diabetes. For newly-diagnosed type 2 diabetics the ignorance and poorly-researched advice they receive from friends, family, colleagues, acquaintances and sometimes even doctors, only makes them feel less confident about approaching their future ability to manage this very serious condition.
Type 2 diabetes is often referred to as late-onset diabetes because it very often occurs as people age and is normally more prevalent in people aged thirty or older. This fact is sometimes misconstrued as meaning that people with type 2 diabetes have been doing something wrong – eating poorly, drinking too much alcohol, being physically inactive, for example.
Very often people with type 2 diabetes will find a lack of sympathy and support from family and friends as their disease is labelled as being ‘self-inflicted’. Soon after hearing that type 2 diabetes is all their fault they may be offered simple, home-spun advice like:
- “Well, all you need to do is stop eating;”
- “Get your head out of the nose-bag;”
- “Put a lock on the fridge;”
- “You just need to go for a run.”
It is not hard to see how someone facing the challenge of learning to live with this lifelong disease can have their emotional security and self-confidence shattered by hearing such clumsy and ill-considered advice.
If only the advice-givers sought-out in-depth type 2 diabetes research and knew enough to properly counsel a newly-diagnosed diabetic patient, their advice may be worth listening to.
The truth is type 2 diabetes can be managed effectively and the first thing a new diabetic can do to enhance their prospects of successfully beating the worst of the condition is to ignore the silly ‘couch counselling’ and do some research about the disease itself.
While it is true that weight-management, food, exercise and hydration are involved in a diabetic’s environment before and after diagnosis, the normal way that is presented to the new diabetic is steeped in myth.
Myth #1 – The Diabetic Patient has Caused their Type 2 Diabetes
So, the first myth to dispel is that type 2 diabetic patients have caused their own disease and consequently don’t deserve our sympathy, support, encouragement and help. Yet these are precisely the things a newly-diagnosed patient needs to put themselves on the path to wellness.
Diabetes is simply not your fault!
In order to get diabetes you will need to have the genetic make-up for it. And though we would all surely like to, you can’t control who your ancestors mated with over thousands of years. For millennia food was scarce and life was tough; your ancestor’s family may not have eaten for days and long treks to find food meant that over generations your genetic make-up brought you to the point it has today – a successful and efficient energy finder and storer.
This would have been an ideal trait for a person to have at one time in the very distant past. It probably also explains why you are here because bodies better equipped for acquiring energy and storing it would have produced more offspring.
The problem is we now don’t have to chase wild pigs around with bow and arrow to make sure we eat dinner. We drive to our local supermarket or pick-up the phone and dial for home-delivered pizza; abundant in dense carbohydrates as they are!
However, even if you have the genes, that doesn’t necessarily mean you will get diabetes. Genetics doesn’t work that way. If you do have the gene and you don’t exercise, eat carbohydrate-intense foods, and experience difficulty keeping weight off, then you are more likely to end-up with type 2 diabetes.
There are no guarantees. It is not a certainty that you will suffer from type 2 diabetes!
In fact, a remarkable number of newly-diagnosed patients have been totally unaware they had the disease because they never experienced weight problems, ate healthy and exercised. If newly-diagnosed type 2 diabetic patients were responsible for causing their disease surely this group of diabetics could never exist.
This leads us to the next, interrelated myth to bust: the problem is simply too much food.
Myth #2 – Diabetes is Caused by Eating too Much Food
Many people with type 2 diabetes are overweight. This often leads people to say,” if you had just eaten less sugar,” or “if you had not eaten so much fat,” then somehow you would not have type 2 diabetes.
The food situation and its relationship to type 2 diabetics is a complex one. Food is involved, that’s for sure! Though, food is not involved in the way that many people who are not trained in diabetics mistakenly understand.
This is because the problem with diabetics actually resides in their own body. That is, the way that a diabetic’s body handles food is different to a normal person’s body.
In order to get a better understanding of what the body should be doing when it processes food into cellular energy we need to take a step back and look at the digestion process.
What is happening in the body during food digestion?
Glucose is required by the body for fuel. When we eat something the carbohydrates in the food are broken-down into glucose in the small intestine – our stomach. Glucose then passes through the stomach into the bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream the hormone insulin carries the glucose into the body’s cells so it can be used as energy for the cells to function.
So, carbohydrate metabolism involves the chemical changes that take place in a cell that produces energy and the basic materials needed for the important processes of life.
As seen above insulin transports glucose into the cells giving the cells energy. Insulin then stops the release of glucose from the liver.
Diabetes occurs when there is either insufficient insulin produced or the insulin that is produced is unable to work effectively (insulin resistance). When this happens, blood glucose levels (BGL’s) increase. The cells of the body will not receive glucose for energy. Any glucose not in the bloodstream will be stored as fat. As a result the diabetic patient will feel tired (because the cells are not getting energy) and experience hunger for high-density carbohydrates as their body seeks energy for fuel. They will also experience weight-gain as the energy not used is sent to fat deposits.
When we understand this we can see why food has a role to play in exacerbating the diabetic patient’s disease, and also why food doesn’t have the role we think it does in causing diabetes. That is, it is possible to see why food is linked to the problem of diabetes, but also to understand that food is not the problem itself.
When we understand how the diabetic patient’s body metabolizes food we can understand why someone with type 2 diabetes may have excess weight, and experience extreme tiredness and feel hungry all of the time. This also explains why diabetic patients have so much trouble keeping weight off and why they may desire sweet-tasting food and drinks.
Their body is literally conspiring against them by failing to pass energy to the cells and by instead storing energy as adipose (fatty) tissue even when there is no excess energy in the food that a person consumes.
Diabetes is a Metabolic Disorder
Because type 2 diabetes involves problems with the way in which food is metabolized into cellular energy we can say that diabetes is a metabolic disorder. The body’s metabolic systems don’t operate correctly and type 2 diabetes is one of the symptoms of this.
Metabolic Syndrome, sometimes called Syndrome X, is a condition which many type 2 diabetics develop prior to diabetes becoming a full-blown problem for them.
Metabolic Syndrome is a cluster of conditions which may indicate an increased risk of developing diabetes, cardio-vascular disease and stroke. Doctors usually don’t diagnose Metabolic Syndrome unless a minimum of three of the following are present:
- Visceral Obesity (fat around the middle of the body);
- High Triglycerides;
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Low HDL Cholesterol;
- Insulin Resistance (IR).
Some medical researchers have also drawn attention to the high incidence of sleep problems among patients with Metabolic Syndrome, with many having insomnia and obstructive sleep apnoea. Therefore, sleep problems may also be an indicator of risk when it comes to developing type 2 diabetes.
Insulin Resistance and full-blown type 2 diabetes share a number of symptoms in common. Because Insulin Resistance and type 2 diabetes involve the body’s energy acquisition and processing system becoming dysfunctional a common symptom is abnormal levels of fatigue.
Fatigue and tiredness leads us to the third myth type 2 diabetics often deal with. The uninformed often label them as lazy; sometimes this comes packaged with the other term that also shatters the diabetic’s confidence. That is: they are both fat and lazy.
Myth #3 – Diabetics Are Lazy
In today’s world activity and hard work are highly valued. Gratefully, we owe much of our high standard of living to very high levels of productivity. That is, our wealth and lifestyle can largely be attributed to working hard.
As children we most-likely came from homes where hard work was highly esteemed, and its opposite – work-shyness – was despised. If Mom or Dad accused us of being lazy this was meant to be taken as a stinging rebuke.
Even the Bible contains encouragement to work hard and warnings against laziness.
“The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied” (Proverbs 13.4).
This enculturation of an ethos of hard work carries over into our work and social environments. There is nothing wrong with that, except where many may be suffering from any number of ailments that impact on their ability to work; or at least their ability to work at a pace, and in a form, that other’s recognize as being adequate for social approval.
It can be particularly cruel when people may be suffering from a condition that people can’t see, yet present with symptoms that people do see but can’t recognize as being influenced by a health condition.
And this is why the type 2 diabetic patient may face the humiliation of being labelled as ‘fat and lazy’ or, somewhat more kindly, just ‘lazy’.
Where may people be getting this idea that type 2 diabetics are lazy?
Malfunctioning ‘Energy system’
The process whereby food is broken down into nutrients and cells are supplied with energy and minerals is identifiably out- of- order in the type 2 diabetic patient. Often this is also the case with someone who may be suffering from Metabolic Syndrome.
It can be said that the type 2 diabetic patient has a problem with their ‘Energy System’; that bodily function, or set of bodily processes, that is responsible for digesting food and supplying cells with energy so they can work properly.
One of the obvious problems that the type 2 diabetic patient can suffer as a result of their diabetes is crippling fatigue and tiredness. Unless one has experienced this unnatural and unreasonable tiredness it is impossible to adequately convey with words how debilitating it can be.
Some diabetes patients struggle to even get out of bed. If they manage to get out of bed they risk micro-sleeping on the drive to work, or falling asleep at their desk when they get to work. Consequently, many countries have restrictions on diabetics driving and operating heavy machinery.
Combined with this another set of symptoms diabetics face is related to the effects diabetes has on the nervous system and a patient’s neurology.
Diabetics can experience foggy and confused thoughts and cognitive impairment. Because of this diabetics can think they are working hard when they may not be. There is also a difficulty in the diabetic body dealing with stress and this can manifest in a depression-like condition, and increased blood-pressure. They can quickly feel overwhelmed.
All of this can occur without their perceptual awareness.
Understanding this it is easy to imagine how diabetics could be viewed as being lazy. Especially as many people also believe obesity is caused to some extent by inactivity.
Dealing with Myths about Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is a major health condition which typically can’t be seen, though some of the symptoms can have physical consequences. Much of what is known about diabetes has not reached the masses, and as a result ignorance is commonplace.
- Share Your Journey – ‘No man is an island’ so the saying goes, and nor should type 2 diabetes sufferers feel like they’re doing it all alone. Where appropriate let people know how you’re getting on with managing your disease. People love to hear about your triumphs;
- Educate – Filling people in on why you don’t drink, don’t eat sweets and go for an hour’s walk every day can unlock some of the mystery. People sometimes fear difference. So, let them know why things are different for you. This also works when someone comes out with a blatant mistruth. Take the time to explain why their ideas about type 2 diabetes may be wrong;
- Don’t Be a Victim – A Type 2 diabetes diagnosis can be a real shock to the system. It is not unusual for newly-diagnosed patients to feel like they have it all against them. They may even feel like giving up. However, type 2 diabetes that has been brought into the light with a correct diagnosis, rather than remaining hidden and doing silent damage to you is far worse. In fact, diagnosis can be liberating as it gives you an excuse to change your lifestyle; eat healthier, look after your health better, and exercise more. You will feel better and live longer as a consequence.
Finally, if you have recently been diagnosed don’t struggle alone. Get help. Speak to experts. Keep in contact with your doctor. Join a gym or walking club. Take cooking classes so you know how to cook a nutritious meal rather than eat take-away. Make an effort to learn everything you can about diabetes.
Don’t ever give up. Keep fighting the disease. Don’t let it beat you!
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How Do You Get Type 2 Diabetes? Exploding Popular Myths About How People Become a Type 2 Diabetic