Types of insulin – Explained


In this article, we will explore the types of insulin and understand the basis for insulin classification.

Let us understand the function of insulin.

Insulin and its importance

Insulin is a hormone secreted by the beta cells of the pancreas to regulate blood glucose levels.

If insulin is deficient or the body is unable to respond to the insulin it leads to diabetes which requires insulin to be administered from external sources to manage hyperglycemia or high blood glucose levels.

Based on the onset time (how long it takes to start working) and the duration (how long it lasts) of insulin action, insulin is broadly classified into 5 types.

  1. Rapid Acting Insulin
  2. Short Acting Insulin
  3. Intermediate Acting Insulin
  4. Long-Acting Insulin
  5. Mixture

Let us get familiar with the methods of insulin administration.

Methods of insulin administration

  • Why is insulin not administered orally?

When ingested, insulin reaches the GI tract and gets destroyed and digested in the acidic pH of the stomach by being acted upon by HCl.

  • Hence, insulin is not administered orally and can only be administered through
  1. Intravenously or IV – less common method
  2. Subcutaneous tissue – more common method

Over the years, insulin has been extracted from pigs and bovine which are not completely identical to human insulin. With advances in biotechnology, insulin that is identical to human insulin (humulin)  could be developed synthetically for treating diabetic patients.

Types of insulin
Types of insulin

Classification of insulin

TypeOnset of actionDuration of actionInsulin under brand name
Rapid Acting Insulin 15 minutes2 to 4 hours Novolog or Insulin AspartHumalog or Insulin lisproApidra or insulin glulisine
Short Acting Insulin30 minutes3 to 6 hoursNovolin R or Insulin Regular
Intermediate Acting Insulin1 to 2 hours12 hoursNovolin N or NPHInsulin-Zn (with Zn suspension)
Long Acting Insulin2 to 4 hours24 hoursLevemir or Insulin detemirLantus, Basaglar or Insulin glargine
MixtureMixture Insulin is a combination of two or more than two types of insulin.The mixture can beRegular or Rapid acting mixture with 20-50% of rapid or regular insulin mixed with the other.Isophane or NPH with 50-80% of either component.Longer Acting Analog – a mixture of different long-acting insulin types.

Important points to remember:

  • Only in case of an emergency, Regular Insulin can be given Intravenously (IV)
  • Characteristics of Regular insulin which makes it the only insulin type-safe to be administered through the IV method.
  • It is soluble
  • Can be mixed with Zinc 
  • Given subcutaneously which makes it easily absorbed by the cells within 30 minutes of intake

When insulin is injected or released by the pancreas naturally, the main site of insulin metabolism is the Liver followed by the kidney and muscle.

Factors that are considered by a medical practitioner when prescribing the type of insulin best suited for you:

  • Blood glucose levels in your blood
  • For how long you have been living with diabetes (type 2)
  • Other medicines being taken
  • Lifestyle 
  • Health conditions
  • Affordability

Consult a diabetes specialist to know the best type of insulin for treating and managing diabetes effectively.

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