All About Insulin

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Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas that regulates the amount of glucose in the blood. When the pancreas is no longer able to produce insulin, or not enough insulin, the diagnosis can be either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes. Gestational diabetes is also a consideration during pregnancy.

1921, Frederick Banting and his assistant Charles Best discovered how to remove insulin from a dog’s pancreas. They then used the insulin to save the lives of other animals, and eventually humans suffering from diabetes.

Insulin from cattle and pigs was used for many years, but it caused allergic reactions in many patients. The first synthetic “human” insulin was produced in 1978 utilizing E. coli bacteria in its production. Eli Lilly eventually produced Humulin, the first commercially sold biosynthetic human insulin.

Insulin now comes in many forms, and it is important to know the difference, and to be aware of the various qualities that set them apart.

There are several types of insulin today: Rapid-acting, Short-acting, Intermediate acting, Long-acting, Ultra Long-Acting, and Inhaled insulin. They are categorized by how quickly they begin to work in the blood stream and also how long their effects will last.

Rapid-acting insulin

  • Taken as a bolus before or during a meal or to correct for high blood glucose
  • Takes effect in 15 minutes
  • Lasts 2 to 4 hours
  • Brand names: Apidra (glulisine), Humalog (lispro), Novalog (aspart)

Short-acting insulin

  • Taken as a bolus before or during a meal or to correct for high blood glucose
  • Takes effect in 30 minutes
  • Lasts 3 to 6 hours
  • Brand names: Humulin R, Novolin R

Intermediate-acting insulin

  • Usually taken twice a day as a combination bolus and basal insulin
  • Takes effect in 2 to 4 hours
  • Lasts 12 to 18 hours
  • Brand names: Humulin N, Novolin N

Long-acting insulin

  • Taken once or twice a day as a basal insulin
  • Takes effect in 2 to 4 hours
  • Lasts 24 hours
  • Brand names: Lantus (glargine), Levemir (detemir), Basaglar (glargine)

Ultra long-acting insulin

  • Taken once a day as a basal insulin
  • Takes effect in 6 hours
  • Lasts 36 hours
  • Brand names: Toujeo (glargine), Tresiba (degludec)

Inhaled insulin

  • Inhaled before or during a meal or to correct for high blood glucose
  • Takes effect in 15 minutes
  • Lasts 3 hours
  • Brand names: Afrezza

Read more on Diabetes Management.