What is insulin, and why is it important?
Insulin is a hormone that helps your body use sugar. It is made by the pancreas, a large organ that lies behind your stomach.
When you eat, your digestive system breaks the food down into simpler forms that the body can use. Most food is broken down into a form of sugar called glucose. Glucose travels through the body in the blood. Insulin helps glucose move from the bloodstream into the cells, where it can be used for energy, growth, and repair.
What does insulin have to do with diabetes?
In healthy people, the pancreas releases the right amount of insulin to move glucose into the cells. But people with diabetes have a problem:
- People with type 1 diabetes don't make insulin.
- People with type 2 diabetes either don't make enough insulin or their bodies don't use it properly, which is called insulin resistance.
Taking insulin shots helps correct the balance between blood sugar and insulin in the body. All people with type 1 diabetes need to take insulin. Some people with type 2 diabetes take insulin.
Can insulin be taken as a pill instead of a shot?
No. At this time, insulin is available only as an injection. If insulin was swallowed, it would be destroyed by the digestive system. It needs to be injected into the fat under the skin.
Most people who need insulin use syringes to give themselves shots. Some people use insulin pens, pumps, or jet injectors. Experts keep looking for easier ways to take insulin.
Is all insulin the same?
No. There are four different types. The types are based on how quickly they work (onset) and how long they work (duration).
- Rapid-acting insulin starts to work 5 minutes after it's injected and keeps working for 2 to 4 hours.
- Short-acting insulin starts to work within 30 minutes and keeps working for 3 to 6 hours.
- Intermediate-acting insulin starts to work within 2 to 4 hours and keeps working for 12 to 18 hours.
- Long-acting basal insulin starts to work within 1 hour and keeps working for 20 to 26 hours.
Does insulin cause side effects?
Insulin can cause:
- Low blood sugar
- Weight gain