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Future Health

How Insulin Works

November 2, 2020 


Insulin is a hormone that is made in the pancreas. The pancreas then releases it into your bloodstream. Insulin helps your body use sugar for the energy it needs, and then store the rest. Your pancreas is an organ that sits just behind your stomach. It releases insulin to control the level of glucose in your blood.

Insulin acts as a “key” to open the cells in the body and allows the glucose to be used as an energy source. When there is excess glucose in the bloodstream, known as hyperglycemia, insulin encourages the storage of glucose as glycogen in the liver, muscle, and fat cells. These stores can then be used later when energy requirements are higher. As a result of this, there is less insulin in the bloodstream, and normal blood glucose levels are restored.

In addition to the regulation of glucose, insulin also plays a role in other areas of the body.

  • Modify the activity of enzymes and the resulting reactions in the body.
  • Build muscle following sickness or injury via the transportation of amino acids to the muscle tissue, which is required to repair muscular damage and increase size and strength. It helps to regulate the uptake of amino acids, DNA replication and the synthesis of proteins.
  • Manage synthesis of lipids by uptake into fat cells, which are converted to triglycerides.
  • Manage breakdown or protein and lipids due to changes in fat cells.
  • Uptake of amino acids and potassium into the cells that cannot take place in the absence of insulin.
  • Manage excretion of sodium and fluid volume in the urine.
  • Enhance learning and memory of the brain functions.

In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas is no longer able to produce insulin. In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas initially produces insulin, but the cells of your body are unable to make good use of the insulin. This is called insulin resistance. If you have diabetes, insulin therapy can do the job your pancreas can’t. The following types of insulin are available:

  • Rapid-acting insulin reaches the bloodstream within 15 minutes and keeps working for up to 4 hours.
  • Short-acting insulin enters the bloodstream within 30 minutes and works for up to 6 hours.
  • Intermediate-acting insulin finds its way into your bloodstream within 2 to 4 hours and is effective for about 18 hours.
  • Long-acting insulin starts working within a few hours and keeps glucose levels even for about 24 hours.

Type 1 diabetes happens when the pancreas does not make enough, or any, insulin. Without insulin, the cells cannot get enough energy from food. This form of diabetes results from the body’s immune system attacking the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. The beta cells become damaged and, over time, the pancreas stops producing enough insulin to meet the body’s needs.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body builds up a resistance to insulin. While the pancreas may still produce the hormone, the body’s cells cannot use it effectively. As a result, the pancreas produces more insulin to meet the body’s needs, and it is often unable to keep up with the increased demand.

Although you can’t change risk factors such as family history, age, or ethnicity, you can change lifestyle risk factors around eating, physical activity, and weight. These lifestyle changes can lower your chances of developing insulin resistance or prediabetes. For more information and resources available speak with your doctor or a medical professional.