Starting Out - 101 Series

About Insulin - Types, Benefits, Limitations and More

Reviewed by

Shifa Fathima

Insulin: Everything You Need to Know

Even though we have heard the term 'Insulin' a lot of times, it never really bothered us until the diagnosis of Prediabetes or Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes is a major disorder directly related to insulin and poses a considerable threat to human health with comorbid conditions. High blood glucose and high blood insulin levels can lead to severe complications that affect vital body organs, including the heart, kidneys, eyes, and brain. In this article, you will learn all there is to know about Insulin, what affects it, how to avoid or prevent it through effective lifestyle changes and most importantly what are the habit-based approaches you should be doing to reverse and manage insulin-related disorders; thereby reducing the financial burden imposed by medications. But first, let's start with the basics.

What is Insulin?

Insulin is a hormone synthesized and released by the beta-cells of the pancreas. Broadly, Insulin regulates carbohydrate, fat, and protein metabolism and also maintains blood sugar levels. It is secreted in response to the increase in glucose levels in the bloodstream.

The simplest unit is sugar or glucose. Insulin allows the sugar to be absorbed by the body and signals it to use sugar for energy. When the body is unable to release sufficient insulin or when the organs don’t react to insulin in the proper manner, the blood sugar levels rise or drop which can be dangerous for the body and cause organ or nerve damage. 

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What Does Insulin Do?

After you eat a meal, the digestive juices in your stomach break the food carbohydrates into glucose. Glucose is absorbed into your bloodstream through the micro-lining of the small intestine, which leads to an increase in blood glucose levels. Insulin helps the cells uptake glucose from the bloodstream for normal cellular functioning.

Insulin maintains the equilibrium of blood glucose at any given point, and excess glucose in the blood is stored as glycogen in the liver. Further, excess glucose is stored in fat tissues and muscles. Similarly, when you fast, your blood glucose levels decrease. This leads to the pancreas switching off the secretion of insulin into the bloodstream. Then, stored glucose is released into your bloodstream to restore equilibrium and normal body functioning. Hence, insulin regulates the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.

This means insulin is responsible for the proper utilization of glucose. If there is too much in your blood, then insulin ensures it is stored in the liver till your body needs it again.

Effects of Different Doses of Insulin on body

Effects on Blood Glucose

1. Low Range of  Insulin

It causes high glucose levels

2. High Range of Insulin

It causes blood sugar to reduce

3. Normal Range of Insulin

Glucose levels are maintained within limits irrespective of food intake.

Symptomatic Effects

1. Low Range of  Insulin

Since excess glucose is expelled from the body through urination, frequent visits to the washroom and feeling thirsty are commonly seen.

2. High Range of Insulin

Frequent and intensive hunger, excessive cravings for sugar, weight gain, and fatigue are some of the symptoms.

3. Normal Range of Insulin

When the body has normal levels of insulin, your blood sugar will be steady and you will feel fine irrespective of the type of food you consume.

Long Term Effects

1. Low Range of  Insulin

This can lead to hypoglycemia unawareness. This means the brain no longer detects irregularities in blood sugar. This increases the risk of life-threatening situations due to high blood sugar.

2. High Range of Insulin

This can lead to an increased risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases, and reduces life expectancy span.

3. Normal Range of Insulin

This increases life expectancy and ensures bodily functions are normal and organs are healthy.

Management Tips

1. Low Range of  Insulin

Choose to eat lesser portion sizes and consume less sugar and starch. Follow an exercise regime religiously.

2. High Range of Insulin

Try to establish a routine for sleep, exercise, and a diet plan. Cut down on carbs and reduce your intake of sugar. Weight loss can help too.

3. Normal Range of Insulin

Ensure you include exercise in your routine and consume foods in moderation.

Diabetes Overview

Diabetes occurs when there is any irregularity in blood sugar level due to ineffective insulin. It means either the body is producing too much or too little, or the body is not able to absorb the right amount of insulin required to regulate functions. Either way, the blood glucose levels get affected and it can be harmful to a person’s health. There are 2 main types of diabetes, type 1 and type 2. Let us learn more about each of these. 

Type 1 diabetesType 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, which causes the defense mechanism of the body to destroy the good cells in the body because it mistakes them for the harmful ones. In this case, the body cannot produce enough insulin due to damage to the good cells. Type 1 diabetes is usually detected in young people. 

Type 2 diabetes – This type of diabetes is seen in people of any age. When the body becomes resistant to insulin, the body starts to produce more of it but after a while, the cells burn out. The insensitivity to insulin can be an issue and cause a spike in blood sugar levels. The most common cause of type 2 diabetes is weight gain. 

How are Insulin and Diabetes related?

Diabetes is a metabolic disorder, usually a consequence of your pancreas not producing enough insulin or your body not responding properly to insulin. The functioning of insulin varies in individuals with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.

  • Type 1 Diabetes is an autoimmune disorder, and the immune system destroys the beta-cells of the pancreas. Consequently, your body is unable to produce insulin. That’s why this type is also known as Insulin-dependent Diabetes Mellitus (IDDM). This type is more common in the younger population.
  • Type 2 Diabetes is characterized by the increased resistance and reduced sensitivity of the body to insulin. This condition requires more insulin to produce the same effect, and it burdens the pancreas cells to produce more insulin, consequently leading to their burnout and they become non-functional. This type of diabetes is also known as Non-insulin-dependent Diabetes Mellitus (NIDDM) and usually develops in the later stages of life.

Diabetes Treatment with Insulin

Now, you have seen that insulin is required in both types of diabetes. When your body is not producing it or is not properly responding to it due to reduced sensitivity, insulin has to be injected from outside as a replacement or supplement to meet the requirement and maintain blood glucose levels.

  • Individuals with Type 1 Diabetes must inject insulin to control blood glucose levels as their bodies are unable to produce it.
  • Individuals with Type 2 Diabetes usually manage their blood glucose levels with oral antidiabetic medications and lifestyle or behavioral changes. However, when these measures are ineffective in controlling blood glucose levels, they may also require insulin to maintain blood glucose levels.

Types of Insulin

The American Diabetes Association (ADA), classifies Insulin based on how fast it acts.

  1. Rapid-acting Insulin : Usually begins to act 15 minutes following the injection, reaching peak effect in an hour. The effect stays for a few more hours and then fades away.
  2. Short-acting Insulin : Begins to affect blood sugar approximately 30 minutes after the injection and peaks, ranging between 2 and 3 hours. The effect usually stays for 3-6 hours.
  3. Intermediate-acting Insulin : Usually takes 2-4 hours to exert full effect and can be effective for 18 hours.
  4. Long-acting Insulin : Reaches the bloodstream 1-2 hours following the injection and can have a full-day effect. There are no designated peaks with long-acting insulin, and it works like natural insulin.

Insulin Dosage and How to Inject Insulin?

Insulin is usually self-administered using a specific syringe with markings on it. Insulin syringes come in different sizes depending on the dose of insulin you need. It is very important to discuss the prescribed quantity with your doctor and use the correct size of insulin syringe to make sure you get the right dose at designated intervals to maintain blood glucose levels.

Insulin can be injected in a couple of areas of your body like abdomen, upper arm, buttocks, hip, and the front or side of the thigh. However, insulin works fastest when it is injected into the abdomen. Nowadays, apart from the conventional syringes, various other innovative and easy-to-use products are available in the market, including Insulin Pens, Insulin Pumps, and Jet pumps. In 2014, inhalational insulin was approved for use in diabetes to relieve injection pain and other injection site reactions.

What if I stop taking Insulin?

In the absence of adequate insulin levels in the body, you can develop another metabolic disorder, called Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA). It is characterized by the body breaking down fats to produce energy and releasing ketones as a byproduct. These ketone bodies accumulate in the bloodstream and can lead to brain swelling, and the body can go into shock.

Other complications of DKA could be Hyperglycemia characterized by increased blood glucose levels and Insulin Shock caused by low blood glucose levels while using too much insulin. So, regular monitoring of blood glucose levels, insulin intake, and doctor's monitoring are critical when it comes to regulating Insulin imbalance.

Insulin Benefits & Limitations in Type 1 & 2 Diabetes

In Type 2 Diabetes, your body’s ability to produce sufficient insulin decreases and you may be asked to take insulin injections to manage it. But Insulin therapy comes with its own set of Pro's and Con's.

      Pro's

  • Insulin is a strong medication and is effective in reducing the symptoms of high blood sugar like fatigue and frequent need to urinate
  • Reduces the risk of developing diabetic complications
  • Decreases and relieves the strain on the pancreas to produce insulin and helps in beta cell recovery

      Con's

  • Raises the Risk of Hypoglycemia
  • Can lead to Weight Gain
  • Discomfort with Injections

Bottom Line

It is now clear that Insulin is important for normal body functioning to regulate almost everything you eat. If your body is unable to produce it, it can lead to the development of diabetes, which could further damage the pancreas. Consequently, this leads to insulin administration as a replacement or supplement. You should adopt a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and get physically active. These healthy habits will help you reduce the risk of insulin resistance and the chances of developing Type 2 diabetes. You are stronger than you think! So get up and leave the shackles of a poor lifestyle. Take baby steps to adopt healthy habits, and once the results become visible, you will be inspired to do more.

FAQs

1. How to take insulin without a syringe?

If you do not prefer syringes, you can opt for an insulin pen. Once you have used the pen, you can throw it out. 

2. How should I store my insulin? 

Insulin should be kept in the fridge between 2.2 to 7.7 degrees Celsius. It should not be frozen and it should not be exposed to direct sunlight either. It cannot be exposed to direct heat or cold. 

3. What is Insulin resistance? 

Insulin resistance is the inability of the body to use insulin for the absorption of glucose from the blood to its cells to be used to generate energy. 

4. Can you survive diabetes without insulin?

In the case of type 1 diabetes, if insulin is not made available to the person, it could result in organ failure and eventual death. In the case of type 2 diabetes, some people require insulin injections to manage their blood sugar levels and keep them steady enough for living a healthy life. 

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