Truths and Myths About Diabetes

By Eileen B. Wyner, NP
Bulfinch Medical Group

The Internet is a wonderful thing. We have all hopped on and traveled the information highway, but like all road trips, it’s easy to make a few wrong turns. There is so much information available and it can be overwhelming to decide what is really true or might be true. I thought I would look at 5 common topics about Diabetes that my patients have brought to me over the years and sort out what is myth and what is truth.

True, False, Question MarkI don’t want to start taking insulin. My uncle went blind /started dialysis/lost his leg after he started insulin— Blindness, dialysis, and amputation are serious complications of poorly controlled Diabetes. Years of hyperglycemia may lead to retinopathy, renal failure, and lower extremity wounds resulting in amputation. Starting to use insulin doesn’t cause these complications to happen. In fact, starting insulin may help to prevent these types of complications.

I don’t want to be on insulin. I don’t need it—We all need insulin. It’s a hormone that is produced by the pancreas and it allows the body to convert food into energy for activity. If you don’t have Diabetes your pancreas makes and utilizes insulin automatically. If you do have Diabetes your pancreas isn’t working as efficiently as it should. It may not be making and releasing enough insulin into the system as effectively as the body requires. If you have Type 1 Diabetes, your pancreas isn’t making any insulin and you need to inject insulin to survive.

I have to start insulin because my Diabetes is really bad and I didn’t try hard enough to take care of it— Insulin is just one of many medicines used for treating Diabetes. If your health care provider determines that you need to start taking insulin, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your Diabetes is getting worse. Diabetes is a chronic and progressive disease that we do not yet have a cure for, and ultimately a large percentage of people with Type 2 Diabetes need to self inject insulin over time. Far from being “the beginning of the end” for most people, starting insulin is the beginning of better health. You will have better blood-sugar control, which translates into feeling better, and possibly halting or reversing complications.

I don’t want to start insulin because I will gain weight and I am already overweight—Now, there is some truth to this one. Some people with Type 2 Diabetes may gain weight after starting insulin therapy. It’s important to know, however, that the insulin itself does not increase your weight. Your body begins to process blood glucose more efficiently when the insulin starts to work and the result can be weight gain. This is one reason unexplained weight loss can be an early symptom of Diabetes. It is important to realize that any weight gain usually levels out as your blood sugar gets under better control, and not everyone gains weight when they begin taking insulin.

I am afraid of the artificial sweeteners because they are bad for you—There is no definitive research to show that there are any health dangers to using acesulfame potassium (Sunett), aspartame (Nutrasweet, Equal), saccharin (Sweet’N Low), or sucralose (Splenda) according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). All these agents have been approved for use.

The truth is, whenever you have a question about your health, check with your health care provider so you know what myth is and what truth is.