Insulin – What is it and how does it work?

Insulin is a hormone (chemical messenger) that is produced by the pancreas in your body.

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WHY IS INSULIN IMPORTANT?

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When we eat, food gets broken down into different nutrients. One of them is glucose (sugar). Glucose is like fuel for the body. It gives you the energy to move, talk, think and even sleep. If food enters the body, it triggers the pancreas to release insulin. Insulin is like a key that opens the cells.  With the action of insulin, glucose can enter the cells and get used for energy or stored until it is needed by the body.

A person with type 1 diabetes does not produce insulin at all.

A person with type 2 diabetes may produce some insulin, but their body does not respond to it in the correct way

WITHOUT INSULIN, THE GLUCOSE REMAINS IN YOUR BLOODSTREAM.

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This causes high sugar levels in your bloodstream (called hyperglycaemia).

Without insulin, glucose can’t be stored for energy. This is the reason why people with uncontrolled diabetes may feel tired, agitated and hungry. Hyperglycaemia can also cause damage to your blood vessels and organs. This can contribute to issues like heart attacks and strokes in the future.

Insulin cannot be taken as a tablet. It needs to be injected or given via an insulin pump.

A person with type 1 diabetes will need a long and short acting insulin when diagnosed.

A person with type 2 diabetes will usually start with a tablet to help their body to respond better to the insulin that it produces. Over time, if their diabetes is not controlled, the pancreas will produce less and less insulin until it is necessary for them to also inject insulin as part of their treatment.

THERE ARE DIFFERENT TYPES OF INSULIN, DEPENDING ON HOW LONG THEY HAVE AN EFFECT IN YOUR BODY:

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Long-acting insulin is an insulin that is been released slowly throughout the day and night in your bloodstream. Some of the long-acting insulins work up to 12 hours and others up to 24 hours. Depending on the specific type of long-acting insulin you use, you will inject it either once or twice a day.

Short acting/rapid insulin is insulin that is injected with a meal to bring the blood glucose down after carbohydrates (sugar) is eaten. The name ‘rapid’ indicates that insulin works immediately after it is injected and its effects last only for a short time.

Your doctor will tell you which meals during the day will require you to use insulin. It could be for only one or for all 3 meals. Your doctor will also teach you how to adjust your insulin according to what your blood glucose reading is, what you eat and how active you are.

THE INSULIN THAT YOU INJECT IS JUST LIKE WHAT YOUR BODY WOULD NORMALLY PRODUCE. IT IS NEEDED TO CONTROL YOUR DIABETES EFFECTIVELY.




Written by Sr Annemarie Van’t Foort | Health Window

Reference: Tosun B, Cinar FI, Topcu Z, Masatoglu B, Ozen N, Bagcivan G, Kilic O, Demirci C, Altunbas A, Sonmez A. Do patients with diabetes use the insulin pen properly? Afr Health Sci. 2019 Mar;19(1):1628-1637

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