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More Myths, Diabetes and Otherwise

Jan Chait

July 6, 2011

Sorry for the abrupt ending to my last blog entry. I had planned to finish it on Sunday, but got tired and postponed my plans for Monday morning.

Monday, I overslept and didn’t have time to work on it before heading for the hospital to get my kidney stone out — which it was, successfully. Aside from feeling for a few days like the surgical team had played a few innings and used my kidney for third base, I’m doing much better now.

Now, I did get into an argument with the anesthesiologist in the operating room. That’s not a good thing to do. I was “out” for a l-o-n-g time. For the first time, I couldn’t feed myself after surgery and had to play “baby bird” while my husband spooned cream of wheat and raspberry sorbet into my mouth.

The argument was over whether or not my insulin pump should be left on me. There is absolutely no reason why an insulin pump should be removed. His argument was that they were going to be flipping me over and the pump could come out or bruise me. I say if they can flip me over with all of the other things they had on (and in) me such as blood pressure cuffs and IV lines, they should be able to handle a pump. I’m not planning to go back to that hospital.

But on to this week’s topic: Diabetes myths.

Just for fun, I keyed in “diabetes is the leading cause of” into a search engine. Zowie! The things I came up with! Diabetes is the leading cause of…
…death
…kidney disease
…blindness
…amputations
…etc.

And I mean, this was just matter-of-fact line after line. And weren’t many of us told by our doctors of all the dire things that would happen to us because we had diabetes?

On the other hand, didn’t Diabetes Self-Mangement Web Editor Diane Fennell just report last week that people with diabetes are now living longer? I don’t see why it can’t be the same for people with Type 2, but researchers can only report on results from the group they’ve studied — in this case, Type 1s.

So I added one word to the end of the search phrase: “nothing.”

Several years ago, I listened to William H. Polonsky, PhD, CDE, ask an audience of certified diabetes educators (and at least one media person): “True or false? Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness, non-traumatic amputations, and end-stage renal disease in America.”

Of course it’s true, many of us agreed, as we nodded our heads to each other.

“False,” Polonsky answered. “Poor management causes those problems. Well-managed diabetes is the leading cause of NOTHING.”

Not that diabetes is easy to manage. I believe I have a fairly high level of knowledge, plus health-care professionals to help me, but I still have problems.

But with today’s tools and medicines, it’s a lot easier than it used to be. You just have to use them. Today’s tools and medicines — home blood glucose monitoring, continuous glucose monitors, insulin formulations with a more physiological response, and even nutritional labels on foods — are probably the reason people with a more recent diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes are living longer. I believe Type 2s can live longer, too, with proper attention to diabetes control.

Oh! One of my favorite myths is “you can eat all the sugar-free foods you want.”

I wish.

The fact is, some percentage of just about all foods — and especially carbohydrates — convert to sugar in your body. Sugar is what our cells use for energy. Without sugar feeding our cells, our bodies would be unable to function.

Try an experiment. Go to the candy aisle of a store and compare regular and sugar-free versions of the same types of candy. Hard candies are a good choice to compare. Some brands make the same kind of a candy in both regular and sugar-free versions. You’ll be surprised at what you discover.

Along with that goes “diabetic foods.” Gimme a break. Foods don’t have diabetes. (Couldn’t resist that one!) Seriously, just make healthful food choices most of the time. Once in awhile, have a portion of whatever “sinful” goodie you’re craving. When I look for a recipe for something, I look for ones with nutritional information included and make my choice from those.

The “diabetic diet” is the same one that everybody — whether they have diabetes or not — is urged to follow. It used to be the food pyramid. Now it’s MyPlate. If you didn’t read Amy Campbell’s recent blog entry about the new method, go here.

And, finally (for now): “I had diabetes but it went away.”

In your dreams.

It’s a phrase I always remember an ophthalmologist I know telling me. He’d examine a person, find diabetic retinopathy and ask, “Has your doctor ever told you that you have diabetes?”

And the answer he would get would be, “Yes, but I took some pills and it went away.”

No, it didn’t. Diabetes is not an acute illness, such as a sore throat, where you take some antibiotics and it goes away. Diabetes is a lifelong condition that has to be monitored and taken care of for…well, life. (And “life” in more ways than one.)

There are people who have been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes after having gained too much weight for their bodies to handle, have lost that excess weight, and whose blood glucose is normal. But the genetics for Type 2 diabetes is still lurking inside those bodies. Let your guard down and gain too much weight back and, again, your pancreas is no longer making enough insulin to keep your glucose in normal ranges and/or the insulin resistance increases to the point where the Type 2 diabetes is “back.” In fact, it never left.

It would be helpful if doctors would refer their patients to diabetes self-management education, or explained what the pills are doing. But not all of them do. Usually, it’s up to us to do our research and figure it out for ourselves. Or to learn to ask our doctors and pharmacists “what does this pill do?”

I’ve now written a book and I’m still not finished with this subject. I need to go on to something else next week, but I’ll pick this up again. Probably at the end of July/beginning of August when I’ll be out of town. We’re meeting some family members for a few days halfway between our homes at the end of this month and I’m heading off to AADE in August.

In the meantime, are there any myths you’d like to see addressed? Just let me know and I’ll give ‘em a shot.



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