Insulin Basics

Types of Insulin

Some people need to take insulin to help manage their diabetes. Everyone with type 1 diabetes will need to take insulin, and some people with type 2 diabetes will need to take it. If you need to take insulin, you have several options, and you should discuss the different types of insulin with your doctor and diabetes treatment team. You should understand what's best for you and your lifestyle.

Insulin Types
There is insulin derived from animal matter. In fact, the earliest insulin used to treat diabetes was developed from the pancreas of cows—and later from the pancreas of pigs.

Bovine (cow) and porcine (pig) insulin worked very well, but in the 1980s, researchers developed synthetic human insulin. Especially for people who were allergic to bovine and porcine insulins, this development was needed.

Also, synthetically-engineered human insulin is, of course, much closer to the insulin produced in our bodies, so there's less of a chance that the body will reject it as "foreign."

Now, all insulin sold in the United States is synthetic, and scientists have further refined insulin in insulin analogs. These are man-made substances that perform the same function as insulin—but their molecular structure has been changed slightly to change how long it takes for the insulin to kick in.

Insulin Classifications
All types of insulin are further classified by how long they take to work and how long their effects last. There are:

  • rapid-acting insulins: These take effect about 15 minutes after injection, and they peak in an hour. The effects of rapid-acting insulins last several hours. Use these before meals (and then, don't delay eating—you've put the insulin in, so you'll need to give your body some food so that it can create glucose!)
  • short-acting insulins: This is also called regular-acting insulin. It'll get to your bloodstream in about 30 minutes, will peak after 2 to 3 hours, and will be effective for 3 to 6 hours.
  • intermediate-acting insulins: Intermediate-acting insulin can control blood glucose levels for 10 to 12 hours.
  • long-acting insulins: These take 1 to 2 hours to reach your bloodstream, but they're effective for up to 24 hours. Long-acting insulins work more like normal pancreatic basal insulin secretions.
  • pre-mixed (or combination) insulins: As the name implies, these are combos of different types of insulin. For example, a rapid-acting insulin can be mixed with an intermediate-acting insulin, giving you better, more consistent blood glucose control (since the different types of insulin will act on your blood glucose levels at different times).

Insulin Differences: How Do You Know What You Should Use?
Your doctor and diabetes treatment team will make the best recommendation for your insulin treatment plan.

However, you should know that the differences in all the brands available is minor, so the most important consideration is what insulin works best for you and your lifestyle.

Working with your doctor and maintaining clear communication about how your insulin is working will help you take better care of your diabetes.