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You may have heard plenty about diabetes, one of the most prevalent diseases in the African American community, but how much of your knowledge is fact, vs. fiction?

Blacks are from 1.4 to 2.2 times more likely than Whites to have a form of the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Some Blacks, Hispanics, American Indians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders inherited the so-called “thrifty gene,” according to the federal agency. The gene reportedly helped our ancestors store food energy better during times when food was plentiful and then survive when food was hard to come by.

But now that “feast or famine” situations rarely occur for most people in the United States, the agency says that the once-helpful gene may put Blacks at a higher risk for type 2 diabetes, one of the most common forms of the disease. It occurs when the body fails to properly use insulin, the hormone needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy needed for daily life. Type 1, an autoimmune disease, causes the body to fail to produce insulin.

Diabetes occurs when blood glucose levels are above normal. “Most of the food we eat is turned into glucose, or sugar, for our bodies to use for energy. The pancreas, an organ that lies near the stomach, makes a hormone called insulin to help glucose get into the cells of our bodies. When you have diabetes, your body either doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t use its own insulin as well as it should. This causes sugar to build up in your blood,” according to the CDC.

The disease can cause serious health complications including heart disease, blindness, kidney failure, and lower-extremity amputations. Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States.

Still, there are a lot of myths floating around about the disease, Ann Albright, M.D., director of the CDC’s Division of Diabetes Translation, told NewsOne. “It is important to address misconceptions and myths about diabetes, because it is a condition that requires individuals to actively participate in their own care,” she says.

The CDC helped NewsOne to sort through myths about the disease:

You Can Prevent Type 1 Diabetes

Unfortunately type 1 diabetes is not preventable. But with the help of insulin therapy and other treatments, even young children can manage their condition and live long, healthy lives, the CDC says.

Getting Type 2 Diabetes Is Simply In The Genes, And Not Preventable

Not true, according to the CDC. Type 2 can be prevented by staying fit and maintaining a healthy diet. Type 2 is diabetes occurs as a result of a combination of genetics and lifestyle. It can develop as part of an unhealthy diet when too many high-fat and sugar calories are consumed. For example, sugar can have a negative impact on your diet if healthy fruits and vegetables are replaced by unhealthy foods such as candy, pie and cake.

Weight management is key. Here is why: being overweight or obese puts added pressure on the body’s ability to properly control blood sugar using insulin and makes it more likely for diabetes to develop, according to the Obesity Society. Say, if you weigh 200 pounds, losing 10 to 20 lbs is likely sufficient for helping you prevent type 2 diabetes.

But nothing is 100 percent effective, especially if you are in the high-risk category, which includes being overweight and not physically active. The disease develops as a result of “a combination of genetics and lifestyle challenges,” CDC officials say.

Indeed, someone with genetic risk factors could be physically active, slim, and still develop the disease if they consume too many calories from high fat and sugary foods, the officials say.

They should replace such fare with healthy calories, like fruit, vegetables, and whole grains, experts say.

Exercise Does Not Help Keep Diabetes In Check

Not true. Exercise does help, according to the CDC. In the case of Type 2, it’s actually part of the treatment plan, which begins with nutrition and physical activity. Some people diagnosed with type 2, for example, manage it solely with diet and exercise.  Medication is added, as needed.

But for type 1, you must receive insulin, the CDC says. You cannot manage type 1 through diet and exercise alone.

You Can Never Be Cured of Diabetes

The answer is yes and no. While there is definitely no cure for type 1, the answer is trickier for type 2. There are many who would argue that there is no cure for any form of diabetes, according to the CDC, which essentially argues there is no cure. But some medical professionals, the agency notes, believe that if a patient, who has been dieting and exercising, has been prescribed medication and is able to go off, the patient has been cured.  Again, diet and exercise are treatment for type 2, the CDC says. But you’re really not cured, you are managing it with diet and exercise, officials say.

Some surgeons would say having bariatric surgery for weight loss pushes the disease into remission. But if people regain weight after bariatric surgery, their glucose levels may spike again and the disease could return.

Type 2 Diabetes Can Turn Into Type 1

Not true. People do think that if you have type 2 diabetes and you go on insulin, it means you now have type 1, which is untrue officials say. That thinking contributed to why doctors no longer call forms of diabetes insulin-dependent and non-insulin dependent. You simply have Type 2 diabetes which requires insulin for treatment.

Without question, there are a lot more myths out there, which is why the CDC urges people to consult with their health care providers. Click here to review the CDC fact sheet on diabetes in African Americans, or check out the American Diabetes Associations’ web page on National Diabetes Awareness Month to learn about diabetes and prediabetes.

“People living with diabetes must have accurate information in order to effectively manage their diabetes, along with guidance from their health care providers,” Albright says.


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Do You Believe One Of These Diabetes Myths?  was originally published on