How Does Insulin Work?

Glucose levels continually change within the body.

Whether it is time of day, exercise, stress, consumption of food or infections that raise or lower sugar levels, there is little to no constancy in blood glucose levels hour to hour for any individual diabetic. If there were, there would be no need to prick the finger multiple times each day to take glucose readings.

Why We Take Insulin

The goal of taking insulin is to regulate blood glucose throughout the day at an even level, so as to prevent a buildup of excess glucose in the bloodstream. This buildup could cause damage to major organs and body systems.

Insulin, once it is in the bloodstream, enters blood cells. This allows these cells to take in glucose, which they need for energy. The increased glucose entering the cells decreases glucose levels in the blood.

Types of Insulin and How Each Works

There are a variety of insulin products that act differently so the insulin injected can be closely matched to the body's needs.

Rapid-acting insulin may be taken between 10 minutes and 30 minutes prior to a meal. Short-acting insulin may be taken up to an hour before eating. Providing so-called "coverage" for food intake, these insulin types are designed to stabilize what would otherwise be a spike in glucose levels as digestion takes place.

These types of insulin can last somewhere between one and eight hours, depending upon the type and brand. Coverage levels peak between 30 minutes and five hours.

There is also a need for insulin to cover longer periods without food, such as between meals or overnight. This insulin is designed not to take care of a spike in glucose but to regulate glucose levels over a long period, regardless of food intake. This is long-acting insulin, peaking in one to two hours and generally active over 20 to 24 hours.

Intermediate-acting insulin peaks between four and 12 hours while providing some level of benefits for 18 to 24 hours. This might be useful as an overnight treatment.

Different types of insulin can be purchased premixed into a combination dosage, reducing the need for multiple injections.

One last type of insulin is buffered insulin, the form commonly used by those patients who wear an insulin pump. Phosphate buffering stabilizes the insulin, and a clinical trial for type 1 diabetes patients has shown it to be more effective than regular insulin when used in an insulin pump – with lower dosages required.

Source: Clinical trial on benefits of buffered insulin vs. regular insulin in type 1 patients

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