Insights from the Editor

5 Things You Might Not Know About Diabetes

posted by Sean Kelley on August 6, 2010 8:43 AM

If you or a loved one has been recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, just managing the information onslaught can be a real challenge. I know it was for me, and I came from a family steeped in diabetes history. In fact, my grandfather was in the first generation of diabetics to take insulin for the disease.

A decade after being diagnosed, I still encounter things about managing the disease that surprise me. Here are five facts about type 2 diabetes that might surprise you:

5. Exercise can actually increase blood sugar.

diabetes-testing

It doesn't seem to make much sense. Exercise is supposed to burn sugar and bring blood glucose levels down. Intense workouts, however, can have the opposite effect. That's because the body releases stress hormones that tell your body to increase available sugar as fuel for your muscles.

4. Testing gets expensive...

Most blood glucose meters are either very cheap or free. Unfortunately, the test strips needed to operate them aren't. (Companies that make razors use a similar model.) Retail prices for some strips of some meters exceed $1.50 each. If you test five times a day (before meals and bed time, for example), testing supplies can run you more than $225 a month.

3. ... And it's not all that accurate.

The Food and Drug Administration requires that blood sugar monitors be only so accurate. That tolerance--within plus or minus 20 percent of the actual blood glucose level--means that a monitor may read normal when your blood sugar is actually high. Or it may read high when your glucose levels are actually normal. The good news: Most meters are more accurate than the FDA requires, and the agency is considering stricter standards.

2. It's not only about sugar.

I still find it funny that people think diabetes is about sugar. The disease, still called "sugar diabetes" by many older Americans, isn't caused by overeating sugary foods. In fact, we don't know what causes either main type of diabetes, though scientists and physicians have many excellent ideas.

For type 2, being overweight, which can easily come from eating too many sweets or from just eating too much and not exercising enough, plays a big roll. But there are also genetic and environmental contributors. And there's a surprising number of new cases in populations that are considered thin. Misconceptions abound.

1. There's a silver lining to having type 2 diabetes.

Finding out you have type 2 diabetes can be devastating. Managing the disease is expensive and frustrating, and it generally requires major life changes. But the diagnosis can also be a wake up call. In most cases, gaining tight control over diabetes requires frequent exercise and healthy eating habits--things that are good for diabetes and also good for general health. Everything you do that's good for diabetes is good for the rest of you.

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About the Author

Sean Kelley

Sean Kelley is an award-winning journalist and blogger. His work has appeared on CNN.com, in Health magazine, and in numerous online and print publications.

He lives on a farm in Alabama where he raises tomatoes and honey bees.