Myths about diabetes and metabolism

14 October 2011

Myths about diabetes and metabolism -

Having diabetes doesn’t mean you have a slower metabolism or that it’s inevitable you’ll end up fat. GP Dr Alasdair Wright dispels some of the misunderstandings of this common condition. 

Approximately 2.9 million people have diabetes in the UK and, according to leading charity ‘Diabetes UK’, around 850,000 who are thought to have undiagnosed Type 2 diabetes.

What is diabetes?

It’s a long-term condition that is caused by too much glucose (sugar) in the blood. There are two types.
Type 1
In early-onset Type 1 diabetes, which usually starts at a younger age, the pancreas fails to produce insulin, leading to high blood sugar levels.
Type 2
In late-onset Type 2 diabetes, it is the cells which are unable to respond to insulin. 

What is metabolism?

All tissues within the body use glucose to make energy and it is this process which is known as metabolism.

We eat foods which are broken down in the digestive system to leave the necessary fuel in the form of carbohydrates, proteins and fats that cells need to repair and function properly. 

Why is diabetes a metabolic disorder?

Metabolic disorders involve chemical reactions in your body, which upset the process of metabolism – the process of making energy from food. To work efficiently, your metabolism must break down the food you eat and turn it into sugars and acids. 

”In the case of diabetes, it is not the metabolism within the cells which is at fault, but the ability of the cells to take in glucose,” explains Dr Alasdair Wright. 

Myths about ‘fast’ and ‘slow’ metabolism

We all know someone overweight who claims to have a slow metabolism (apparently, they just look at a cake or chocolate bar and they put on weight) or somebody as thin as a rake who claims to eat what they want because they have a fast metabolism – but, in fact, experts say these are myths.

”When people talk about metabolism – what they are actually taking about is basal metabolic rate – that’s the rate at which your body uses energy when you are resting and not doing any activity,“ explains Pav Kalsi, Clinical Advisor at ‘Diabetes UK’.
“The rate at which your body burns energy is not affected by diabetes. There is nothing inherent in diabetes which makes you have a slower basal metabolic rate. However, your metabolic rate will vary according to your age, sex, fat/muscle ratio, your weight and how active you are.

”For instance, people who have more muscle and less fat will have a higher metabolic rate than people who have less muscle and more fat because muscle burns more energy than fat.

”People with Type 2 diabetes are more likely to be overweight at diagnosis, as this is one of the risk factors of the condition.” 

Balancing calorie intake with activity

“The terms 'slow' and 'fast' metabolisms are misnomers as most people have the potential to burn more or less calories depending on how physically and mentally active we are.

‘If we consume a greater number of calories than used,” adds Dr Wright, “then this excess energy will be stored in the form of fat tissue and, if we burn more calories than we take in, body fat tissue will reduce.

”To maintain a healthy body weight with optimal body function, it is important to balance energy in and out by matching the amount of calorie consumption to activity levels. Remaining physically active, along with consumption of a low fat and low sugar diet, makes this easier to achieve.” 

How is it treated?

Type 1 diabetics will respond to the use of insulin therapy

Type 2 diabetics may respond well to dietary changes but others may also require diabetic medications and, in some cases, insulin therapy.

”To obtain good diabetic control, it is also important to try to maintain optimum body weight through eating a healthy balanced diet and undertaking appropriate regular physical exercise,” advises Dr Wright.

For more information on diet and managing diabetes symptoms, go to ‘Diabetes UK

Send your questions about any aspect of diabetes to our panel of experts.