Before explaining different types of insulin, let’s first understand insulin production and its function in normal human beings. Insulin is an important Hormone produced by the Pancreas in the body. When you eat food, it is digested and converted into glucose which circulate in the blood. Insulin’s main function is to push glucose (body’s main energy form) into the cells and tissues all over the body for it to use as energy.
This means without insulin, glucose keeps accumulating in the blood while body cells and tissues continue to starve. This is exactly what happens in people who have Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus, which is also the explanation of some of the symptoms of Diabetes Mellitus (DM) such as fatigue and excessive hunger.
In Type-1 DM the body cannot produce enough insulin because the Beta cells in the pancreas, which are responsible for production of it, are destroyed by the body’s auto antibodies in a process called Autoimmune Destruction.
In Type-2 DM, the body produce an ineffective form of insulin (poor quality) which does not result in glucose being pushed into the cells. Sometimes the insulin is effective (good quality) but the body is resistant to it, a condition called Insulin resistance.
Why Insulin Is injected Rather than swallowed?
As you have seen above, the only treatment for Type-1 Diabetes Mellitus is insulin because the body cannot produce it. For Type-2 DM there are oral medications such as Metformin which are used initially to increase insulin sensitivity and quality to control Diabetes. When the pills are no longer working, then insulin injection is added.
One big challenge about insulin is that it cannot be administered or prepared in the form of pills and tablets since it digested by the enzymes in the stomach and intestines. Insulin can only be given by injection and needs to be store in the fridge or cool place all the time.
Before 1980s Insulin was extracted from the Pancreas of pigs and cows, purified and used in humans. This meant that many animals had to die for a few milliliters of Insulin. Today synthetic insulin is produced in the lab with no animal dying for humans.
Different types of insulin are produced and categorized based on how fast they start to work once injected in the body subcutaneously (under the skin) or intravenously. The main categories are:
- Rapid Acting Insulin: this type of insulin start working in 15-30 minutes and work for only up to 5 hours. People using this type of insulin should eat and inject at the same time, no delay between injection and eating.
- Short Acting Insulin starts working in 30 min to 1 hour according to WebMD. The duration of action lasts for 5-8 hours with peak time in the blood of about 2 hours.
- Intermediate acting Insulin is usually given twice a day. This is because it starts working in 1-2 hours but lasts about 18 hours in the body. It covers insulin needs for overnight and Half the day, this means a higher dose of about 2/3rd of total daily dose is given in the morning and the remaining 1/3rd is given at night before 22:00.
- Long Acting Insulin covers insulin needs for a full 24 hour duration. You inject once a day, usually at night with effect lasting 20-24 hours. It is in most cases used with short acting insulin to boost it when eating.
The type of insulin that you’re likely to get depends on the type of Diabetes you have and what type of work or lifestyle you have. Insulin is generally stored in a cool place like the fridge all the time.
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