Health: What you need to know about diabetes

November is Diabetes Awareness Month. So raise your awareness of this common condition by correcting these five common myths.

Myth #1:
I don’t need to worry about diabetes.

Diabetes is a very common condition. The prevalence of diabetes in adults over the age of 20 is one in 11, and the incidence of diabetes is expected to increase as the population ages, becomes less active and more obese.

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There’s a good chance that you — or someone that you care about — will develop diabetes. That’s why we all need to know more about it.

Myth #2:
Diabetes is all about sugar.

Diabetes is a problem with metabolism — how your body converts food into energy. Because glucose is a source of energy for every cell in the body, diabetes has potential effects on multiple organ systems, including the nervous and circulatory systems.

Poorly controlled diabetes is a major cause of heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure, amputations and blindness. A person who has had diabetes for several years is considered by physicians to have the same risk of a heart attack as someone who has established vascular disease.

Poorly controlled diabetes is a common cause of erectile dysfunction. More bad news: Viagra doesn’t work as well for people with diabetes.

Myth #3:
Diabetes is caused by being overweight or eating too much sugar.

There are two types of diabetes. Type I is insulin-dependent. For some reason, usually related to the immune system, the pancreas no longer produces sufficient insulin.

Therefore, Type I diabetes requires insulin injections or infusions.

Ninety per cent of diabetes is Type II or insulin-resistant. This is commonly a hereditary condition. You might inherit a tendency for diabetes from your mother or father. As you grow older or gain weight, your cells may become more resistant to the effects of your body’s own insulin. You become glucose intolerant, and carbohydrates, such as rice, pasta and potatoes, cause a greater rise in your blood sugars than they normally should.

Not everyone who is overweight or drinks a lot of pop will develop diabetes, but if you have the genes for Type II diabetes, gaining weight, getting older and consuming excessive sugar will allow diabetes to manifest.

Myth #4:
All diabetics have to take insulin and check their blood sugars many times each day.

People with Type I diabetes — because they do not produce enough natural insulin — are dependent on insulin injections or infusions. They have to monitor their blood sugars regularly throughout the day to keep their glucose levels in a safe range.

Most people with Type II diabetes do not require insulin with the onset of their condition so they usually do not have the same need for multiple daily glucose testing. There are a variety of oral medications to control Type II diabetes. Two essentials are regular exercise and smaller, more frequent meals with low glycemic index foods (carbohydrates that do not cause a sharp rise in blood sugars).

If blood sugars continue to rise, insulin may be needed.

Myth #5:
Everyone with diabetes will get complications.

With the careful management of diabetes, most of the complications of diabetes can be avoided. This requires optimal self-management in which individuals are given the support and education they need to be effective managers of their own health.

In addition to blood sugars, we monitor and manage blood pressure, cholesterol levels, changes in the eyes and kidney function.

Dr. Davidicus Wong is a family physician and his Healthwise columns appear regularly in this paper. For more on achieving your positive potential in health, see his website at For more information about diabetes, talk to your family doctor or check the Canadian Diabetes Association’s website

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