How Does Insulin Work?

To answer this question we can turn to a number of reliable sources, among them the American Diabetes Association. This long-standing organization has focused its efforts on dealing with all aspects of the life-changing disease – diabetes. Through the years the association has gathered an enormous amount of information about insulin and how it works in the body.

According to the group’s Web site, “there are different types of insulin depending on how quickly they work, when they peak and how long they last.” The most commonly used type is U-100. This statement alone may come as a surprise to those who have never had to learn about insulin and its role in controlling diabetes.

To understand how insulin works we should begin with the fact that the body creates its own insulin in the pancreas – in the “normal” healthy body. In basic terms, insulin helps the body “use or store the blood glucose (sugar) it gets from food.” (American Diabetes Association)

In people with type 1 diabetes the pancreas doesn’t make insulin because the beta cells have been destroyed. With type 2 diabetes insulin is made but the body doesn’t use it properly. In these cases, individuals must use insulin injected under the skin so that it can get to the blood stream more directly.

Medical-text information shows four basic types of insulin: long-acting, intermediate-acting, regular or short-acting and rapid-acting. The action for these ranges from a 6-10 hour start in the bloodstream to a five-minute start, with peak times varying as well. Once the insulin is in the body it helps lower blood glucose.

How does this glucose-regulation occur?
Normally, insulin is produced in the body when the level of glucose is elevated. This triggers the cells of the pancreas to produce insulin. In those with diabetes, insulin is injected into the body for the same purpose. In the blood stream the insulin “stimulates the liver and muscle cells to take up glucose from the blood.” As the organs of the body take up this blood sugar the level decreases. So does the amount of insulin produced. The process regulates the level of glucose in the blood.

how does insulin workLooking at the regulation process in more detail shows that the standard for a healthy level of blood glucose is 90 milligrams per deciliter. When the pancreas senses that this level is elevated it produces insulin. Understanding how insulin travels through the body is easier if we know that the insulin is “carried in the blood plasma,” the liquid portion of blood. Research shows that the insulin binds to globulins, which are proteins of larger size.

When the insulin and blood pass through the liver and the muscle cells, the receptors in these locations “attract” the insulin, which binds to the receptors. At this point the process of glycogenesis begins. The glucose changes so that it can be taken up by the cells of the body. Synthetic insulin must be introduced into the body on a consistent basis in those with diabetes.

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