Diabetes Symptoms: Separating Myths from Facts So You Can Live the Sweet Life

Numerous myths are associated with diabetes symptoms. Learning how to manage your blood glucose levels will help you live a normal, symptom-free life.

A spoon of sugar and block letters that spell ‘DIABETES’ on a wooden surface.

Diabetes is a chronic disease that you can categorise as either type 1, type 2 or gestational diabetes. It can impair your body’s ability to turn the foods you consume into energy. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder that halts the body’s ability to produce insulin naturally. Thus, people with type 1 diabetes require a daily administration of insulin. It presents with fatigue, blurred vision, weight loss, frequent hunger pangs, and excessive urination (polyuria) and thirst (polydipsia). Meanwhile, type 2 diabetes is the direct result of an ineffective use of insulin, which can be caused by excessive weight gain and a sedentary lifestyle. The symptoms of this condition are similar to that of type 1 diabetes, but are less prominent. Gestational diabetes, meanwhile, can be described as hyperglycaemia — high blood glucose levels — but below the diagnostic level for diabetes. The condition potentially causes complications during pregnancy or childbirth. 

It’s worth noting that several unusual signs can also point towards the onset of diabetes. These include a liability to infections, a tingling sensation in your feet, or skin discolouration on the back of the neck. Firstly, high blood glucose levels will weaken a person’s immune system.

People with chronic diabetes can also have peripheral nerve damage and lesser blood flow, thus increasing their risk of infections. This same nerve damage can also provoke a burning or tingling sensation, as well as heaviness and numbness of the feet. A dark patch of velvet skin on the back of your neck, armpit or groin can indicate too much insulin in your blood. It’s clinically known as acanthosis nigricans, and is a sign of prediabetes. To help you understand your condition better, here are a few diabetes symptom myths, debunked.

Myth 1: Every Person with Diabetes will Go Blind

Girl smiles gleefully as she sits at a table of desserts and pastries.
The consumption of sugary foods is not a direct cause of diabetes.

It’s a given that diabetes is a leading cause of blindness. However, you can prevent this consequence by keeping your weight, glucose and blood pressure levels under control. In addition, people with diabetes who smoke cigarettes can reduce their risk of vision loss by quitting the habit. 

Myth 2: If You Don’t Have a Family History of Diabetes, You Won’t Develop the Disease 

In actuality, eating too much sugar-sweetened foods can cause a person to develop diabetes, even if you don’t have a family history of the disease.

Still, making a switch to sugar-free or diabetic food options will not necessarily prevent the disease or suppress its symptoms either. In fact, diabetes-friendly foods like artificial sweeteners can still increase glucose levels and cause you to experience adverse side effects. 

Myth 3: Diabetes Makes it Easier for a Person to Become Sick 

Contrary to common belief, diabetes will not make you vulnerable to colds or illness. It can, however, make you predisposed to bacterial or urinary tract infections by impairing your immunity. Also, if you contract an illness, the management of blood glucose levels becomes difficult. This, in turn, will increase the severity of your symptoms and make it more complex to treat a particular infection.

Myth 4: Diabetes is Contagious

Diabetes is also not a contagious disease, as some people believe. Rather, it’s non-communicable and will not be passed from person-to-person through touch, blood or sneeze. 

Myth 5: People with Diabetes Symptoms Shouldn’t Exercise 

Regular exercise plays a pivotal role in managing the disease. Physical activity helps to boost your body’s sensitivity to insulin and regulate blood glucose. Aiming for approximately 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous movement each week is ideal. Be sure to also include two strength training routines as part of your weekly routine. 

People with excess weight or obesity must integrate exercise as part of their lifestyle. Doing so will lower their risk of multiple chronic illnesses, including diabetes. 

Myth 6: Insulin Use Means You’re Not Managing Your Diabetes Properly 

It’s mandatory for people with type 1 diabetes to use insulin as their bodies are incapable of producing the hormone. Type 2 diabetes, meanwhile, is progressive and will cause the body to make less insulin over time. Therefore, a healthcare provider will likely recommend the use of insulin to keep your blood glucose within a healthy range when medicines alone can no longer control your blood sugar. In women with gestational diabetes, insulin may also be used to control blood glucose levels if medication fails to regulate them. 

Steps You Can Take to Keep Diabetes Symptoms in Check

3D illustrations of the Sanyinjiao (SP 6), Zhongwan (CV 12) and Shenshu (BL 23) acupoints.
Stimulation of various acupoints can help to achieve glycaemic control.

Effective clinical management of the disease starts with getting an early diagnosis from a specialist. A blood test is an easy and inexpensive way to identify suitable intervention methods to lower blood glucose. 

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners believe that common diabetes symptoms are classified as Xiao-ke syndromes. Hence, diabetes is referred to as Xiao-ke. “A TCM diagnosis may indicate Xiao-ke syndrome, but a person may or may not be diabetic or prediabetic”, explains Eu Yan Sang physician Kong Teck Chuan.

Change the way you eat 

A nutritionist may help device a customised meal plan is one of the best ways to normalise blood glucose. For instance, you can abide by a Mediterranean diet — focused consumption of beans, fruits, vegetables and whole grains — or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet. DASH is usually meant for people with hypertension, but can help with diabetes as well. The diet primarily consists of lower calories, zero sugar and the consumption of non-starchy vegetables. 

On the other hand, TCM suggests the consumption of cooling and yin-nourishing foods like tofu, tomatoes, string beans, and millet porridge with pumpkin. 

Use herbal ingredients or formulations 

Oral type 2 diabetes drugs — has the ability to improve the body’s use of insulin and decrease the amount of sugar produced by the liver. Yet, it can trigger side effects like bloating, diarrhoea, nausea or stomach disorders.

It’s safe to take some medications before meals and others during mealtime. You may also consider using herbal ingredients or formulations if the side effects of use persist. Astragalus, ginseng and Rehmannia root are the preferred options when using TCM as an adjuvant form of therapy. “Also, there’s an increasing number of study results which show that TCM as an adjunctive therapy for patients with diabetes can prevent subsequent stroke and diabetes symptoms”, adds physician Kong.

Interestingly, the use of Ayurvedic medicine has also been effective in managing type 2 diabetes whilst helping to balance the life forces (doshas). A few of the herbs that have proven beneficial in lowering blood glucose levels include fenugreek, bitter melon, holy basil and ivy gourd. You may also include vegetables like okra and cluster beans in your diet.

Undergo acupuncture treatment 

The World Health Organisation advocates acupuncture for its therapeutic effects against non-insulin dependent diabetes. A study of 40 participants who received stimulation at 15 individual acupoints showed a significant reduction of fasting plasma glucose levels after 10 treatment sessions. The same study also discovered that the combination of acupuncture and metformin had a stronger effect on glycaemic control.

A second study on the simultaneous use of acupuncture and moxibustion on 93 female participants with yin or yang deficiencies also demonstrated similar effects. Specifically, there was an improvement of symptoms in 84.78% yin deficiency participants and 69.75% yang deficiency participants. The primary acupoints used were Sanyinjiao (SP 6), Zhongwan (CV 12) and Shenshu (BL 23), amongst others. 

Recognising the facts about diabetes symptoms is the foundation of proper disease management. Do take comfort in also knowing that you can use different systems of medicine in tandem to achieve glycaemic control effectively. Ultimately, seek prior consultation with a clinical, TCM or Ayurvedic practitioner if you are contemplating a mixture of different therapies.

References

  1. World Health Organization. 2021. Diabetes. [Accessed 3 January 2021] 
  2. Diabetes.co.uk. 2019. Diabetes Myths.  [Accessed 3 January 2021] 
  3. MedlinePlus. Diabetes myths and facts. [Accessed 3 January 2021] 
  4. Cleveland Clinic. Diabetes: An overview.  [Accessed 3 January 2021] 
  5. Hindawi. 2013. Treating Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus with Traditional Chinese and Indian Medicinal Herbs. [Accessed 3 January 2021] 
  6. US National Library of Medicine. 2019. Use of Ayurveda in the Treatment of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. [Accessed 3 January 2021] 
  7. ScienceDirect. 2019. Therapeutic effects of acupuncture on blood glucose level among patients with type-2 diabetes mellitus: A randomized clinical trial.  [Accessed 3 January 2021] 
  8. HealthCMI. 2016. Acupuncture Alleviates Diabetes, Outperforms Drugs. [Accessed 3 January 2021] 
  9. Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology. Diabetes, infections, and you.  [Accessed 3 January 2021] 

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