What is Insulin and What Are the Different Types Available?

Jul 15, 2021 by David Wood

What is Insulin and What Are the Different Types Available?

What is Insulin?

Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas. It allows your body to use glucose, a type of sugar found in many carbohydrates, for energy. After eating, the digestive tract breaks down carbohydrates and changes them into glucose that is then absorbed into your bloodstream through the lining in your small intestine. Once glucose is in your bloodstream, insulin causes cells throughout your body to absorb the sugar and use it for energy. 

Insulin also helps balance your blood glucose levels. When there’s an excess of glucose in your bloodstream, insulin signals your body to store that in your liver. The stored glucose isn’t released until your blood glucose levels decrease e.g., between meals or when your body is stressed or needs an extra boost of energy

Diabetes occurs when your body either does not produce insulin (Type 1) or it does not produce enough insulin (Type 2). Injections of insulin can help treat both types of diabetes, replacing or supplementing the body’s insulin.  People with type 1 diabetes can’t make insulin, so they must inject insulin to control their blood glucose levels. Those with type 2 diabetes potentially can manage their glucose levels by lifestyle changes or oral medication. But eventually, even type 2 diabetics may simply not be making enough insulin, and also need insulin to control their blood glucose levels.

What are the Different Types of Insulin Available?

There are multiple types insulin available to treat diabetes and all insulins produce the same effect: they mimic the natural ebbs and flows of insulin levels in the body during the day. The different types vary in how quickly they work, their peak and how long they last. Some work quickly while others work a little slower. Some last for a longer time in your body, while some have a short life.

Here’s a quick glance at commonly used insulin and how they work

Rapid Acting Insulin 15 min 3 to 5 hrs
Short Acting Insulin 30-60 min 5 to 8 hrs
Intermediate Acting Insulin 1-3 hrs 10 to 16 hrs
Long Acting Insulin 1 hr Up to 24 hrs or more
Pre-Mixed Insulin 5-15 min 10 to 16 hrs

Rapid-acting insulin

Rapid-acting insulin (bolus insulin) is typically used to provide a surge of insulin at mealtime to lower glucose levels after eating. It acts very fast beginning to work approximately 15 minutes after injection, and lasts between 3 - 4hours. It can either be injected or used in an insulin pump.

Short-acting insulin

Short-acting insulins (regular insulin) are not as quick to act as rapid acting insulins it usually takes effect between 30 and 60 minutes. It’s usually taken before a meal to control postprandial blood glucose levels and is longer-lasting than rapid-acting insulin, being effective between 5 – 8 hours.


Intermediate-acting insulin starts working in one to two hours and lasts about 10 to 16 hours. It is typically used to maintain a low and steady level of insulin in the body throughout the day. It is known as basal or background insulin replacement  and is intended to be administered twice per day.

Long-acting insulin

Long-lasting insulin is similar to immediate-acting insulin in that it offers a steady level of insulin. But it’s meant to last 20 to 24 hours so that you only have to take it once per day.

Pre-mixed insulin

In premixed insulin, shorter or rapid acting insulin is combined with longer acting insulin.

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