Debunking Diabetes

Diabetes is a disorder common to many, but there are a few misconceptions surrounding the insulin-deficiency disease.

Diabetes occurs when a body doesn’t produce or use insulin efficiently. Insulin produced by beta cells in the pancreas helps the body convert glucose into energy through the body’s cells.

Dr. Michael Gardner, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Missouri School of Medicine, offers the truth about five common diabetes myths.

1. If you have to take insulin, it means you’re failing.
“Insulin is not a failure, it’s just another tool,” Gardner says. In the early days of diabetes medication, patients had to boil their glass syringes and sharpen their own needles. Today, taking insulin is less of an ordeal. It is also more of an amenable solution than most people think.

Type 2 diabetes is a progressive disease, Gardner says. As it progresses, insulin production diminishes and eventually insulin injections are required to keep blood sugar levels down. Until that point, oral medication is an adequate solution for some patients, but sometimes, Gardner says, “It’s best to start with insulin and then once the blood sugars are under better control, sometimes you can stop the insulin and go to oral medicine or other injectable medicines other than insulin.” People with Type 1 diabetes, however, must remain on insulin.

2. If you have diabetes, you will have to wear an insulin pump.
“A pump is just a different tool; it’s not like you get to a point where you need a pump,” Gardner says. “It’s just that a pump is a different way of delivering the insulin. And for some people, it fits their lifestyle better or fits their way of doing things better.”

An insulin pump affixes to the body, typically at or near the abdomen, and administers very small doses of insulin throughout the day. According to Gardner, pumps are much more useful for people with Type 1 diabetes, in which the main problem is that their bodies don’t produce insulin properly. Pumps can also be helpful to teenagers with diabetes because, “Sometimes with teenagers, they need a big surge of insulin in the background at one time or two times during the day,” Gardner says. Pumps can be useful for those with Type 2 diabetes because it can help deliver insulin to the body. Ultimately, “It’s more of a tool that fits lifestyles, rather than a mainstay or necessity for everyone.”

3. Diabetes is hereditary.
“Diabetes is partly genes and partly environment,” Gardner says.

Type 2 diabetes has a fairly strong genetic component, according to Gardner. “With Type 2 diabetes, the genetics appear to be two big pieces: One is that people who are in families with a lot of Type 2 diabetes tend to conserve calories very well and the other thing is that people with Type 2 diabetes tend to put their weight on the middle of their bodies when they gain weight,” Gardner says.

4. Eating too much sugar causes diabetes. People with diabetes can’t eat sweets or chocolate.
“There is no diabetic diet, no such thing, never has been,” Gardner says. “A diabetic diet is a healthy, well-balanced, calorically appropriate diet. It’s basically what we should all be eating.”

The United States Dietetic Association recently switched from the traditional Food Pyramid to the Food Plate, which is a graphic that shows a healthy balance of fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy in the form of a traditional place setting.

“Everyone should seek out a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, moderate in fat, moderate in protein, less fat than protein, less protein than carbohydrates,” Gardner says “Sometimes that’s hard to get across to people that there are no magic foods, there aren’t special foods, it’s just healthy food.”

5. Managing diabetes only requires medication and watching what you eat.
“I view diabetes as a team approach,” Gardner says. “I am a resource for information to my patients and give them suggestions, like a coach would, and they actually have to go out there and play.” Diabetes requires patients to continually ask questions, stay abreast of the most current diabetes news and understand the risks and complications associated with the disease. Families have to work together to support one another and patients must work with their doctors to understand what they can do to improve things like their blood sugar and A1C, according to Gardner.

Visit for more information about the American Diabetic Association.

Type 1 vs. Type 2
In Type 1 diabetes, the body doesn’t produce enough energy. Type 1 diabetes is commonly diagnosed in children and young adults. The most common type of diabetes is Type 2 diabetes. In Type 2 diabetes, the body does not use insulin properly.