What Is Insulin?

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Insulin is a vital hormone made by the pancreas that allows the body to use sugar (glucose) from the carbohydrates in consumed food for energy or to store glucose for future use.

It is called the “key” which unlocks the cell to allow sugar enter the cell.  Insulin keeps the blood sugar level to remain balanced in a normal range. If blood sugar level rises it causes hyperglycemia and when it’s too low, the condition is called hypoglycemia. Long-term complications can be caused if the blood sugar levels stay elevated or lowered for long periods of time.

How does insulin work?

The cells in our body need sugar to generate energy. However, sugar cannot enter most of the cells directly. After we intake food, the digested carbohydrates are converted to glucose. This causes our blood sugar level to rise and the cells in our pancreas (known as beta cells) are indicated to release insulin into our bloodstream. Insulin then attaches to cells to absorb sugar from the bloodstream.

When pancreas releases insulin, glucagon is suppressed. Cells throughout our body are stimulated by insulin to take in glucose from the bloodstream and then our cells use glucose as energy.  In order to fuel the body between meals, excessive glucose is stored in cells of our liver and muscles as glycogen and because of this, the levels of glucose in our blood is reduced.

How does glucagon work?

Glucagon is another vital protein hormone produced in the pancreas. It is a counterbalance to insulin. Around four to six hours after intake of food, the glucose levels in our blood reduce and triggers the production of glucagon in the pancreas. As glucagon is secreted, it suppresses insulin. It signals the liver and muscles to break down glycogen into glucose and release it back to the bloodstream. And thus, it helps your blood sugar levels from dipping too low.

The balancing act:

Insulin and glucagon are the hormones that that help to regulate blood sugar (glucose) levels in our body. Both of them are equally important to manage blood glucose and make sure our body functions well.  Insulin and glucagon are like the yin and yang of the maintenance of blood glucose.  The two hormones partner to balance the blood sugar, keeping the levels in an ideal range required by the body.

If you have diabetes or prediabetes, it’s either because your body can’t use the insulin you make properly, or doesn’t produce enough insulin or no insulin at all.  As a result, it causes an improper amount of glucagon to be released.  When the system gets out of balance, it may lead to dangerous levels of glucose in the blood.

How much glucose is normal?

According to National Institutes of Health, normal blood glucose levels in people who do not have diabetes are:

  • While fasting- 70 to 99 milligram/deciliter (mg/dL)
  • After meals- 70 to 120 mg/dL

And, blood glucose levels of people who do have diabetes are:

  • Before meals- 70 to 130 mg/dL
  • One or two hours after meal- below 180 mg/dL


The regulation of blood glucose in our body is a significant feat. However, it often doesn’t work as designed. The most well-known condition in which blood sugar balance does wrong is diabetes mellitus. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, diabetes mellitus affect 29.1 million Americans. Diabetes refers to a group of diseases. The types of diabetes are-

Type 1 Diabetes-

It is the less common form of diabetes. It is an autoimmune disorder in which our immune system demolishes the cells in our pancreas that release insulin. People with type 1 diabetes have to take insulin to stay alive.

Type 2 Diabetes-

This occurs when our cells don’t respond to insulin. Over time, the body reduces the production of insulin and blood sugar level goes up.  It is strongly linked to obesity and according to National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse, about accounts for 90 to 95 percent of all diagnosed cases of diabetes. Type 2 Diabetes can be controlled with proper medications and changes in lifestyle such as weight loss, good nutrition, and regular exercise.

Gestational Diabetes-

Gestational diabetes can occur to some women late in their pregnancy. It is believed that, in this condition, the pregnancy-related hormones interfere with the function of insulin. Gestational diabetes normally disappears after pregnancy ends. Although, women who have had the condition remain at greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes.


If someone has prediabetes, their body makes insulin but doesn’t use it properly. And hence, the blood glucose levels are elevated but not high enough to be identified as type 2 diabetes. Many people with prediabetes later progress type 2 diabetes.  So, lifestyle changes including weight management, exercise, healthy diet is required to reduce the risk.

Healthy Living-

Healthy living is very important in order to live well with any form of insulin-related disease. Being conscious, getting plenty of exercises and proper diet are important tools in managing the conditions caused by diabetes.

Various types of insulin are used to treat diabetes –

  1. Rapid-acting insulin– This starts working in around 15 minutes after injection and peaks 1 hour later approximately but continues to work for 2 to 4 hours. This is generally taken before the meal in addition to long-acting insulin.
  2. Short-acting insulin– This typically starts working 30 minutes after injection and peaks at 2 to 3 hours but continues to work for 3 to 6 hours.
  3. Intermediate-acting insulin– This starts working in around 2 to 4 hours after injection and peaks 4 to 12 hours later approximately but continues to work for 12 to 18 hours. This is generally taken before the meal in addition to long-acting insulin. It is typically taken twice a day and in addition to rapid or short-acting insulin.
  4. Long-acting insulin: This starts working after several hours of injecting and works for approximately 24 hours.

Insulin can be given through a syringe, injection pen or an insulin pump to deliver a continuous flow of insulin.  Your doctor will decide which type of insulin will work best for you depending on the type of diabetes and your lifestyle.


Reference- http://www.endocrineweb.com/conditions/type-1-diabetes/what-insulin


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