Understanding Insulin: Everything You Need to Know About the Diabetes Essential

Insulin is the hormone that keeps blood sugar from going too high or too low. Produced by the pancreas-a large gland located behind the stomach-insulin helps the body use sugar, or glucose, obtained from food in order to provide the energy required for optimum body functioning. Here is your guide to understanding insulin.

How Insulin Works

Food is broken down into sugar/glucose in the digestive tract, where it then enters the bloodstream. The pancreas detects this surge in blood glucose levels, and responds by producing insulin within its specialized beta cells and releasing it into the bloodstream. Since sugar cannot enter most cells directly, insulin hormones attach to these molecules and ‘unlock’ the gates to different cells.

Once every cell is replenished, insulin converts the extra blood sugar into glycogen and stores it into the liver for future use.

Glucagon: Glucagon is produced and released from the pancreas’ alpha cells to elevate low blood sugar levels. Glucagon stimulates the liver muscles and cells to reconvert the stored glycogen into glucose, which is then released into the bloodstream; signaling insulin release for facilitating glucose entry.

Insulin Resistance and the path to Diabetes

The pancreas regulates insulin secretion according to blood sugar levels. However, with insulin resistance, the liver and muscle cells stop responding properly to the unlocking action of insulin, resulting in increased insulin secretion.

Over time, this pancreatic overload starts burning out the insulin-producing beta-cells, and the body can longer produce sufficient insulin to manage blood sugar levels due to diminished beta-cell numbers (type 2 diabetes), or stops production altogether due to the complete absence of beta-cells (type 1 diabetes).

Who Insulin Doses Are For

Due to the complete damage or destruction of beta-cells, people with type 1 diabetes require insulin through painful multiple insulin injections a day or through insulin pumps , with the dosage increasing over time to ensure normal body function.

Moreover, since diabetes is a progressive condition, most people with type 2 diabetes will require insulin injections at some point for continued blood sugar control.


Depending upon action time, peak time (the time when its effect is highest) and duration, medicinal insulin is divided into 4 types:

1- Rapid-acting insulin:
Activates 15 minutes after injection, peaks after 1 hour, and continues working for 2-4 hours. Due to its rapid activation time, it is usually taken right before a meal. This is the kind that is most often used in insulin pumps, such as Insulauto.
2- Short-acting insulin:
Activates 30 minutes after injection, peaks after 2-3 hours, and continues working for 3-6 hours. Unlike rapid-acting insulin, it can be taken some time before a meal.
3- Intermediate acting insulin:
Activates 2-4 hours after injection, peaks after 4-12 hours, and continues working for 12-18 hours. It is usually taken twice daily alongside rapid and short-acting insulin at mealtimes.
4- Long-acting insulin:
Activates after 3 hours or more and continues working for 24 hours. It can be combined with rapid or short-acting insulin, particularly at mealtimes.

How to Use It

Insulin can currently only be injected directly into the fatty tissues via a syringe, insulin pen, or insulin pump. This is because oral insulin tablets would be destroyed in the stomach before reaching any glucose molecules. It is usually injected in the abdomen due to fast absorption, although some may opt for the thighs, buttocks, and/or upper arms.

Your healthcare provider can teach you about the proper way to administer insulin. However, avoid injecting within 2 inches of your belly button to avoid compromising absorption. Also, vary the injection locations, like different areas on the abdomen, to prevent skin thickening from continuous insulin exposure.

Insulin Reaction

Exercise and an insufficient diet combined with insulin injections can sometimes result in hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Hypoglycemia is also known as an insulin reaction. Signs of an insulin reaction include tiredness, sweating, confusion, muscle twitching, pale skin, inability to speak, seizures, and loss of consciousness.

Since insulin reactions can lead to a diabetic coma, always carry at least 15 grams of either fruit juice, lifesaver candies, raisins, or non-diet soda to balance sugar levels if you are prone to hypoglycemia, and take immediately on spotting any symptoms.

When administered properly, insulin can help maintain blood sugar levels. However, to ensure complete blood sugar control and prevent any diabetes-related complications, remember to regularly monitor your blood glucose levels. Consult your doctor on your specific insulin and blood sugar guidelines and schedules.

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