I’m going start by saying straight away that my main source of facts for this post is from the fantastic JDRF website, where you will find a wealth of information about Type 1 diabetes. I have also taken some information from this NHS website. It’s sad that even now, in an age when more information is available than ever before, there is still so little understanding of Type 1 diabetes, and so many misconceptions among the the general population – and unfortunately health care professionals too sometimes.
Myth Number One: being overweight causes diabetes. NO! At least not Type 1 diabetes. Weight loss is actually a common symptom of the onset of Type 1. Type 1 diabetes is an auto immune condition. The body attacks the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, killing them off. Insulin is the key that enables the transfer of glucose into the tissues of the body e.g. muscles and the brain. Unable to produce insulin, the body cannot use the glucose in food for energy. Instead the glucose stays in the bloodstream. Without urgent treatment it can cause a serious, life threatening condition called ketoacidosis. (Diabetic ketoacidosis is often shortened to DKA.)
Other symptoms of Type 1 diabetes include extreme thirst (a result of the high levels of blood glucose); needing to wee a lot (a result of drinking a lot); fatigue (no energy available from the glucose).
I think this idea that somehow it must be your fault for having Type 1 diabetes – because ‘you ate too many sweets’ has to be one of the biggest misconceptions of them all. There is so much in the news nowadays about ‘diabetes’ when what people actually mean is Type TWO diabetes. I am not saying that Type 2 diabetes is always ‘self inflicted’ – it most definitely is not, but IT ISN’T THE SAME THING!!! There is nothing that people with Type 1 did or didn’t do that caused them to get diabetes. They had no more choice in getting Type 1 than you had in choosing your eye colour, your shoe size or your preference for dark chocolate over milk chocolate. It is NOT their fault!
Myth Number Two: people with Type 1 diabetes can’t eat anything sweet or sugary. NO! Nobody, with or without diabetes, should be eating or drinking lots of sweet, sugary food/beverages – but it is ok to have a sweet treat now and then. The difference is that people with Type 1 diabetes will need to adjust the amount of insulin required to cope with the extra glucose in their blood stream.
Myth Number Three: people with Type 1 diabetes mustn’t do too much exercise. NO! Everyone should stay fit and active, as much as they possibly can. Having Type 1 diabetes does not stop many, many people from living very active lives and taking part in many different sports. It will always be a challenge calculating their food intake and insulin requirements, and will probably involve more checking of blood glucose levels but it is perfectly possible to lead an active, sporty life with Type 1 diabetes. Diabetes UK has some great advice here about managing carbs and insulin when exercising.
Muhammad Ali is a British boxer with Type 1 diabetes. In 2018 he became the first boxer with Type 1 to gain a licence from the British Boxing Board of Control. Rugby international Henry Slade, and footballer Ben Coker both have Type 1 – and it hasn’t put them off a professional sporting life!
Myth Number Four: insulin is a cure. NO! Insulin is a treatment – it’s not a cure! Without insulin people with Type 1 diabetes would die, simple as that. At the moment there is no cure for Type 1. Once those cells in the pancreas have gone – they’re gone for good. BUT there are lots of dedicated brilliant people working hard to find a cure for diabetes. You can help by donating to JDRF to help them support even more research projects. One day there WILL be a cure! My fundraising page is here.
November 14th is World Diabetes Day.