With 26 million Americans now facing diabetes - and another seven million people who have the disease and don't yet know it, chances are you are familiar with someone who is diabetic. There's a good chance that person may be a member of your family. With more than 90 percent of diabetes falling into the type 2, (adult onset diabetes) category, you might also wonder whether you yourself may someday be at risk for the disease. First, a little about those "types" of diabetes. Type 1 and type 2 diabetes have different causes, yet both share important factors - you inherit a predisposition to the disease, then something in your environment triggers it. Type 1 diabetes is generally diagnosed in children, teenagers and young adults. Scientists don't yet know exactly what causes type 1 diabetes, but believe that autoimmune (abnormal immune responses by the body against material and tissues found normally in the body), genetic, and environmental factors are involved. According to the American Diabetes Association, type 1 diabetes accounts for only 5 to 10 percent of all diagnosed cases, primarily in children and teenagers, making it one of the most common chronic diseases in American children. People with type 1 diabetes don't produce insulin, a hormone that regulates how cells obtain energy from food. In type 2, the pancreas produces too little insulin, or the body doesn't properly use insulin which the body does produce. Lifestyle also influences the development of type 2 diabetes. Like obesity, diabetes tends to run in families, and families tend to have similar eating and exercise habits. But while lifestyle changes can go a long way in dealing with obesity and diabetes, eventually the genetics take over, which is why I feel we have a ways to go in curbing the stigma associated with the two diseases - and they are both diseases. There are many myths about diabetes and treatments, which include insulin.

Myth: Diabetes is the result of too much sugar consumption.

Fact: While research has linked sugary drinks with diabetes, it's not that simple. Your risk of developing type 2 diabetes can come through weight gain from high calorie diets from any source.

Myth: If you have type 2 diabetes and must begin taking insulin, you're failing to properly take care of your diabetes.

Fact: Type 2 diabetes is a progressive disease. Over time, the body gradually produces less insulin, to the point that eventually, diet and exercise and even oral medications may not be enough to keep blood glucose levels normal.

Myth: People with diabetes must eat special foods.

Fact: healthy meals for diabetics are generally the same as those for anyone - low in fat (especially saturated and trans fat), moderate in salt and sugar, with meals based on whole grain foods, vegetables and fruit. Processed so-called diabetic foods typically offer no advantages, raise blood sugar and are expensive.

November is Diabetes Month

If you are living with diabetes or have a loved one with the disease, family support is very important when it comes to managing diabetes and preventing serious health problems associated with this disease. Lifestyle changes can lower and in some cases eliminate the need for insulin. It's important to urge family members to get routine checks, especially if there is a family history - even if they feel fine. Many patients don't get symptoms until blood sugar levels hit 250 and above, at which point, damage to their bodies can already be occurring. It's also important to learn if you have a family history of diabetes - such as a mother, father, brother, or sister - that may put you at risk for developing type 2 diabetes. At St. Mary's Medical Center, we're about prevention and delay of the onset of type 2 diabetes through a healthy lifestyle, that includes a healthy diet and increased level of physical activity.

Diane Warren is a Certified Diabetes Educator at St. Mary's Medical Center. She can be reached at 816-655-5244, option 2.