Myth or fact? Eating too much sugar causes diabetes
Even though diabetes is a common disease, there is a lot of misinformation about it. No one knows this better than endocrinologist Mary Crowell, MD at the Endocrine Center of Cape Cod at Cape Cod Hospital. She spends about half of her time with patients with diabetes and over the past 13 years she has heard a lot of misinformation.
With that in mind, Dr. Crowell gave a talk at World Diabetes Day at the YMCA Cape Cod in West Barnstable recently, called “Diabetes, Fact or Fiction.” She discussed some of the most common truths and misconceptions:
Diabetes is a group of diseases that result in too much sugar in the blood. True.
Diabetes is a group of diseases associated with carbohydrate metabolism, Dr. Crowell explained. Carbohydrates are the sugars and starches in food that our bodies break down into simple sugars to use for fuel. The way the body absorbs these sugars is with the hormone insulin.
“Our pancreas makes insulin and insulin opens the gate in our cells to allow the sugar that’s in our blood to go into our cells,” she said. “In all forms of diabetes there is a problem getting that sugar from the blood into the cells.”
Diabetes is caused by eating too much sugar. False.
Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes have a genetic component, but there also needs to be a trigger that takes that genetic risk and turns it into diabetes. With type 1 diabetes, researchers don’t know what the trigger is. There are theories that cold weather, not being breastfed long enough or introducing solid food too early might be triggers, but recent research is focusing on the idea that it might be caused by a virus, according to Dr. Crowell.
With type 2 diabetes, the trigger is lifestyle, including obesity, not eating a healthy diet and not getting enough physical exercise.
Type 1 diabetes runs more strongly in families than type 2. False
In the United States, the risk of developing type 1 diabetes is one in 100, according to Dr. Crowell. If you have an immediate family member who has type 1 diabetes, the risk becomes one in 10. If you have an identical twin with type 1 diabetes, the risk is one in two or 50 percent.
“In the U.S., the risk of type 2 diabetes is about one in 10,” she said. “It’s a lot more common that type 1 diabetes.”
If your parent has type 2 diabetes, your risk is somewhere between one in three and one in seven. It is lower if your parent was diagnosed later in life, but it is higher if your mother has diabetes or if your parent is thin with diabetes. If both parents have diabetes, you have about a 50 percent chance of developing diabetes yourself. If you have an identical twin who has type 2 diabetes, your risk of developing it yourself is 75 percent more.
Diabetes is a common disease. True
In 2014 there were about 320 million people in this country and Dr. Crowell said that researchers think that around 30 million of them have diabetes. That is about 9 to 10 percent of the population.