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A Brief Overview of Insulin

Updated on May 24, 2017

What Is Insulin?

Insulin is a peptide hormone made by the beta cells in the pancreas. This chemical messenger enables the body to use glucose (obtained from carbohydrates in the food) for energy, or to store the sugar for future use.

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Insulin and Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the immune system destroys beta cells that produce insulin. This leads to increased blood sugar levels in the body.

In a person affected by type 2 diabetes, beta cells produce insulin but the body is not able to use it. This is insulin resistance. Over time the pancreas becomes unable to produce enough insulin to overcome resistance, leading to full-blown diabetes.


Insulin As Medicine

Insulin is used as a medicine to treat high blood sugar. It is used to treat diabetes and its complications like diabetic ketoacidosis and hyperosmolar hyperglycemic states.

Types of Insulin

10 - 30 minutes
30 - 60 minutes
90 - 240 minutes
50 - 240 minutes

Rapid-Acting Insulin

This insulin acts very quickly to minimize increase in blood sugar which follows food consumption. It is usually taken just before or during a meal.

Short-Acting Insulin

Short-acting insulin is a preparation of regular insulin with an onset period of around 20 minutes. It reaches peak of action in around a couple of hours. The duration of action is around six hours.

Intermediate-Acting Insulin

It is usually taken in conjunction with short-acting insulin. It begins to act within the first hour of injecting. Its peak activity lasts upto seven hours, after which the activity begins to tail off.


Long-Acting Insulin

Typically injected once a day, this insulin is available in animal and analogue forms. It takes long time to begin working; it can take upto four hours to get into your blood stream. Insulin degludec injection, one type of long-acting insulin, lasts upto 42 hours.

Insulin Administration

Insulin Side Effects

Low blood sugar is the most common side effect of insulin. Blurry vision, increased urinary albumin excretion rate, swelling, weight gain and gastrointestinal distress are other known side effects.

Insulin Price

When Frederick Banting discovered insulin in 1923, he refused to put his name on the patent. He felt it was not ethical for a physician to make money out of a discovery that would save lives of people.

Banting’s co-inventors, James Collip and Charles Best, sold the insulin patent to University of Toronto for a $1. They also wanted everyone who needed their medicines to be able to afford it.

Today Banting and his wonderful colleagues would be uncomfortable in their graves: Their medication, which millions of diabetics worldwide rely on, has become the latest poster child for pharmaceutical price gouging.

On May 2, the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly increased the prices of its insulin medicines, Humalog and Humulin, by 7.8 percent, according to newly obtained records from CNBC’s Meg Tirrell.

And Lilly is not the only company to do so: Sanofi and Novo Nordisk, the only two other companies that manufacture insulin in the US, have been increasing insulin prices recently too.

Patients can now expect to pay upward of $400 per month for this medicine. Pharmaceutical companies use the “cost of innovation” argument to justify the price increases — but critics do not buy their reasoning. Diabetics who depend on the daily lifesaving drug are furious.

In January 2017, patients filed a class action lawsuit accusing the three companies of price fixing. The American Diabetes Association's board of directors had asked Congress to investigate insulin price increases.

While the USA represents only around 15 percent of the global insulin market, it generates almost 50 percent of the pharmaceutical industry’s insulin revenue. According to a recent study in JAMA Internal Medicine, in the 1990s Medicaid paid between $2.36 and $4.43 per unit of insulin; by 2014, those prices more than tripled, depending on the formulation. Authorities worldwide should take appropriate steps to ensure that insulin price does not become unaffordable.


  • Insulin is produced in the pancreas.
  • Condition wherein the immune system destroys beta cells that produce insulin is known as type 1 diabetes.
  • Insulin is used to treat hyperglycemia.
  • Onset time of rapid-acting insulin is 10 - 30 minutes.
  • Long-acting insulin is injected once daily.

Insulin is not a cure for diabetes; it is a treatment. It enables the diabetic to burn sufficient carbohydrates, so that proteins and fats may be added to the diet in sufficient quantities to provide energy for the economic burdens of life.

— Sir Frederick Grant Banting


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