Insulin: Your New Friend

Insulin is not a brief subject, and this certainly will not contain all of the information you need to be a master diabetic. With that being said, I hope to give you a better understanding of what insulin is, the different types, and how it all works together.

When a healthy person consumes carbohydrates (carbs), their pancreas produces insulin in proportion to carb consumption automatically, releasing it into the bloodstream, keeping blood sugar within a standard range of about 70-170 mg/dL (I think this is closer to 140 but we could do some research on this). Insulin removes the metabolized carbs (blood sugar) from your blood and allows them into cells. There, the sugars provide energy for the cell’s functions such as respiration and replication. For diabetics though, the pancreas is either underproducing or not producing insulin at all. Without the ability to convert those carbs into energy, blood sugar skyrockets and we tend to feel pretty yucky. This can be avoided for diabetics with a fitting regimen of ‘basil’ and ‘bolus’ insulin. ‘Bolus’ (ex. Humalog) refers to the fast-acting insulin given for meals, snacks, or the miscellaneous other instances that will spike your blood sugar, and typically lasts 2-4 hours. ‘Basil’ (ex. Lantus) refers to the long-acting insulin used to keep blood sugar constant during sleep and in-between meals and lasts about 24 hours. With a tailored balance between the two, you will be able to regulate your blood sugar like a pro, and rest easy knowing that you control your diabetes.

When I was first learning about insulin and how to formulate this balance I thought that a high basil dosage would allow me to snack constantly without having to take another shot. Great idea, right? I tried my hardest to make it work, but this idea totally misunderstood the intention of long-acting insulin. Instead of getting to eat two bags of chips, three granola bars, some ramen, and a popsicle after school while maintaining a good number (I was a growing boy), I ended up really high around dinner leading to large boluses of insulin further resulting in plummeting and getting really low overnight. However, once you utilize the many resources and technologies available, you will find it much less daunting of a task. Some, like myself, may even find it fun tweaking and investigating the small troubles you may run into, and learning more about diabetes along the way.

I also want to point out the differences between brands of insulin and what questions to ask your endocrinologist when evaluating the fit. Each short-acting insulin brand is not the same and though they all fit in the same category, they metabolize a little differently. For me personally, I started out using both Humalog (short-acting/bolus) and Lantus (long-acting/basil) via syringes. After a few weeks, my parents, doctor and I all agreed that this seemed right for me. The Humalog kicked in quickly and was active over a relatively brief three-hour window, while the Lantus peaked at about 12 hours, and lasted for 24-hours total. Now, if Humalog became unavailable, simply swapping in most short-acting insulin brands would not suffice in maintaining target blood sugars. Before beginning or switching insulin prescriptions, be sure to investigate the differences and watch your/your child’s blood sugar closely to avoid any surprises.

I hope that this helped to shed some light on insulin and the differences between short- and long-acting types!

If you have any questions or would like for some other topics to be clarified, please feel free to email me, Robert, at