About insulin


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What Is Insulin?

The human body requires energy to function. We receive energy from the foods we eat in the form of protein, fat and carbohydrates, or "carbs." The food we eat is typically converted to sugars. In order for sugar to enter the cell and provide energy, it must bind to a hormone called insulin (IN-su-lin).

Insulin is like a key that "unlocks the door" to enter the cell. If we did not have insulin in our bodies, the sugar could not "unlock the isc keylockdoor" to enter the cell. The blood sugar levels would then become very high. When there is not enough insulin to unlock the cell, the sugar stays in the blood and cannot be used to make energy.

If we did not have insulin in our bodies, our blood sugar levels would also become too high. If this happens consistently, it will lead to serious health problems, including heart disease and damage to the nerves, eyes and kidney.

Insulin is produced and secreted by the pancreas. Some people with diabetes have a condition where the pancreas does not make enough insulin to meet its needs or the body does not properly use the insulin it makes. In this case, a special diet and regular exercise is required to control the blood sugars.  If diet and exercise is not enough to control the blood sugars, and if the pancreas is not making insulin as it is supposed to, then insulin from outside the body (external insulin) may be required. Many people with diabetes depend on (external) insulin injections to control their blood sugar.

Are there any types of drugs that can interact with or affect insulin?

Although insulin does not actually “interact” with any drugs, there are numerous drugs that can have an impact on someone who uses insulin. For instance, certain medications can have an effect on your blood sugar and may contribute to an increased or decreased insulin requirement.

Medications that can increase your blood sugar include: corticosteroids, isoniazid, certain lipid-lowering drugs (e.g., niacin), estrogens, oral contraceptives, phenothiazines, and thyroid replacement therapy.

Medications that can decrease your blood sugar include: oral antidiabetic agents, salicylates, sulfa antibiotics, certain antidepressants (monoamine oxidase inhibitors), angiotensin-converting-enzyme inhibitors, angiotensin II receptor blocking agents, beta-adrenergic blockers, inhibitors of pancreatic function (e.g., octreotide), and alcohol. Beta-adrenergic blockers may mask the symptoms of hypoglycemia in some patients except sweating. Herbals such as chromium, garlic and gymnema can also lower your blood glucose.

When using insulin, it is especially important that you notify your doctor or pharmacist before you begin any new medication. This includes both prescription and non-prescription.

Diabetes in Control (www.diabetesincontrol.com) has compiled a list of:

  • drugs that cause hyperglycemia
  • drugs that cause hypoglycemia
  • drugs that cause both hyperglycemia or hypoglycemia
  • drugs that can MASK hypoglycemia                                                                                          

Click here to download (pdf format) this list of drugs.

Does insulin have any side effects?

Insulin, like all drugs, may cause some unwanted side effects. These may occur as a reaction to taking too much insulin or as a result of incorrect dosage or interactions with other medications.

The most common and potentially serious thing to consider with insulin therapy is low blood sugar. Other side effects of insulin may include skin reactions (redness, swelling, itching or rash at the site of injection), changes in the distribution of body fat (lipodystrophy), allergic reactions, sodium (salt) retention, weight gain and general body swelling.       

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