With a massive rise in the prevalence of diabetes in the UK, Dr Ken looks at ten common myths that need busting.

In 2000 there were approximately 1.5 million people with diabetes – now it’s almost four million. In addition, it is estimated that there are almost a million people with diabetes which has not yet been diagnosed. 90% of those with diabetes have type 2, where the body does not produce enough insulin, or the insulin is not used properly. Type 2 diabetes is mainly lifestyle-related and develops over time. Almost 10% of people with diabetes have type 1 – here the cells in the pancreas no longer make insulin. Type 1 diabetes is a genetic condition that often shows up in younger life.

 From the common to the more obscure, be wary of the many myths that surround this subject:

Myth 1: Type 2 diabetes is a mild form of diabetes

There is no such thing as mild diabetes. All diabetes is serious and, if not properly controlled, can lead to serious complications.

Myth 2: People with diabetes cannot have sugar and should avoid grapes and bananas

Having diabetes does not mean a sugar-free diet is necessary. People with diabetes should follow a healthy balanced diet – low in fat, salt and sugar. Diabetics sometimes believe they can’t eat grapes or bananas, as these taste sweet. But if you eat a diet that includes these fruits, you can still achieve good blood glucose control. In fact, grapes and bananas, like all fruit, make a very healthy choice.

Myth 3: People with diabetes should eat ‘diabetic’ foods

‘Diabetic’ labelling tends to appear on sweets, biscuits and similar foods that are generally high in saturated fat and calories. These foods, including ‘diabetic’ chocolate, still affect your blood glucose levels. Also, they are expensive – and they can give you diarrhoea. If you are going to treat yourself, go for the real thing.

Myth 4: It’s not safe to drive if you have diabetes

Providing you are responsible and have good control of your diabetes, research shows that people with diabetes are no less safe on the roads than anyone else.

Myth 5: People with diabetes can’t play sport

People with diabetes are encouraged to exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle. Keeping active can help reduce the risk of complications associated with diabetes, such as heart disease. Steve Redgrave, Olympic gold medal-winning rower, has accomplished great sporting achievements in spite of having diabetes. However, there may be some considerations to take into account before taking up a new exercise regime. Talk to your healthcare team for more information.

Myth 6: People with diabetes are more likely to get colds and other illnesses

While there is some medical research that may suggest people with diabetes are at higher risk of developing illnesses, there’s nothing to prove this conclusively. But there are certain illnesses that are more common in people with diabetes, and diabetes may also alter the course of an illness – for example, the illness may be more severe or prolonged.

Myth 7: Having diabetes means you can’t do certain jobs

Having diabetes should not stop you from getting and keeping a job. However, despite the Equality Act 2010 (Disability Discrimination Act in Northern Ireland), people with diabetes still face blanket bans in some areas of employment, including the armed forces.

Myth 8: People with diabetes can’t wear flight socks

Many flight socks carry the warning that they are not suitable for people with diabetes. If you have any circulatory problems or complications with your feet, such as ulcers, then speak to your GP before using them. If, however, your feet and legs are generally healthy and you are normally active, using flight socks is unlikely to do you any harm.

Myth 9: People with diabetes can’t cut their own toenails

This simply isn’t true. The general advice on toenail cutting applies to everyone. If you have diabetes you should keep your nails healthy by cutting them to the shape of the end of your toes. Remember, your nails are there to protect your toes.

Myth 10: People with diabetes eventually go blind

Although diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in people of working age in the UK, we know that you can reduce your chances of developing diabetes complications – such as damage to your eyes – if you:

■ control your blood pressure, glucose, and blood fat levels

■ keep active

■ maintain your ideal body weight

■ give up smoking

If you have diabetes or are concerned about it, you should talk to your GP and make sure you’re getting the correct information to support you in making healthy choices. 

Dr Ken

Dr Ken Ferguson is a GP based in Glasgow with many years’ experience of working in varied roles across the NHS. He has a professional interest in facial aesthetics as well as general practice. He is a keen runner, enjoys cooking and is an enthusiastic dressmaker.

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