Insulin is a hormone that helps shuttle sugar from your blood into the cells in your body. People with type 1 diabetes or advanced type 2 diabetes need to administer insulin to keep their blood sugar in a healthy range.

Traditionally, insulin came from cows and pigs, but in recent years human insulin has become the more popular option. Human insulin is a type of synthetic insulin made in a laboratory that mimics the insulin your body makes.

In this article we’ll look at how human insulin differs from other types of insulin, how it’s used, and pros and cons.

Insulin is a hormone produced by beta cells in your pancreas. The purpose of this hormone is to help regulate your blood sugar levels by moving sugar (glucose) from your blood into the cells of your body.

When you eat carbohydrates, your digestive system breaks it down and turns it into glucose. Glucose enters your blood through your small intestines.

The cells in your body need glucose for energy. To get glucose from your blood into your cells, your pancreas produces insulin, which sends signals to the cells in your body to absorb the sugar in your blood.

People with type 1 diabetes don’t produce enough insulin and, as a result, need to administer insulin medications to help regulate their blood sugar.

In type 2 diabetes, the cells in your body don’t respond well to insulin and, in later stages, the pancreas may not produce enough insulin. People with advanced type 2 diabetes may also need to take insulin medication to control their blood sugar.

High levels of glucose in your blood can damage your blood vessels and organs.

Human insulin and insulin analogs

Until the 1980s, people with diabetes primarily received animal insulin from cows or pigs. Nowadays, most people use insulin that’s engineered in a laboratory. There are two types of laboratory-made insulin:

  • human insulin
  • insulin analogs

Human insulin is created by growing insulin proteins inside E. coli bacteria. Human insulin was prepared for the first time by David Goeddel and his colleges in 1978.

Human insulin is sold under a variety of brand names, including:

  • Actraphane
  • Actrapid
  • Humulin
  • Humulin N
  • Humulin R
  • Insulatard
  • Entuzity
  • Novolin
  • Novolin N
  • Novolin R
  • Afrezza
  • Insuman
  • Myxredlin

Human insulin is available in two forms:

  • a regular or short-acting form
  • an intermediate-acting form called neural protamine Hagedorn (NPH) insulin.

Regular human insulin takes action within 15 to 30 minutes and peaks in 1 to 3 hours. The more you take, the quicker it starts working.

A fish protein called protamine or zinc is added to NPH insulin to slow its absorption. NPH insulin takes effect about 2 hours after injection and reaches its maximum effect after about 4 to 6 hours.

Nowadays, insulin analogs are also used to treat diabetes. Insulin analogs are made in the same way as human insulin but are genetically altered to change the way they act in your body.

Insulin analogs have a different chemical structure and lower your blood sugar more quickly once insulin is injected into your body.

Human insulin is designed to replace your body’s natural insulin production. It’s formulated as a liquid or a suspension of solids in a liquid to be injected under your skin, usually several times per day.

Insulin is most commonly administered through:

Pens and syringes are both injected under your skin with a small needle. The needle in pens tends to be smaller than the needle in syringes. Some pens use cartridges that you insert into the pen manually while others are prefilled and thrown away when empty.

Insulin pumps deliver insulin through a tube placed into the fatty layer under your skin, usually around your stomach or the back of your upper arm.

Never reuse syringes, needles, or pens. It’s also important not to share them with other people. Doing so can increase your risk of contracting or transmitting a blood-borne illness such as hepatitis or HIV.

The primary benefit of regular human insulin over insulin analogs is the cost. Human insulin tends to be cheaper than insulin analogs, and there’s still debate on whether insulin analogs offer significant benefits.

According to an article published in the American Journal of Medicine, insulin prices tripled from 2001 to 2012 and doubled between 2012 to 2016.

The World Health Organization’s guidelines recommend human insulin products for people with type 1 diabetes who need a cost-effective insulin option.

A 2019 study found an insignificant difference in the A1C test results between people who switched to human insulin or continued taking insulin analogs.

An A1C test measures average blood sugar levels over the past 3 months. The researchers found better adherence in the human insulin group due to the lower cost.

In high concentrations, human and animal insulin tends to clump when injected into the skin. This clumping can cause slow and sporadic absorption. In comparison, insulin analogs tend to clump less and are absorbed more predictably.

Human insulin tends to take effect slower than insulin analogs. Insulin analogs can start acting in as little as 5 to 10 minutes after injection. Regular human insulin takes about 15 to 30 minutes to start working after being injected.

A group of insulin analogs called long-acting insulin analogs or basal insulins can act for up to 24 hours and require fewer injections than human insulin.

It’s important to work closely with your doctor to figure out which type of insulin is right for you. Your insulin regimen needs to be tailored to your specific lifestyle and overall health in order to keep your blood sugar levels regulated as effectively as possible.

It’s common for your doctor to recommend changes to your insulin dose as they learn what works well for you.

When developing your insulin regimen, some questions you may want to ask your doctor are:

  • Which type of insulin will best help me manage my diabetes?
  • How much insulin should I take and at what time of day?
  • How should I administer my insulin?
  • What are my target blood sugar levels?
  • What side effects are possible?
  • What should I do if I have side effects?
Was this helpful?

If your insulin levels are mismatched to your needs, you’re at risk of developing overly high or low blood sugar that has the potential to be life-threatening.

Human insulin is synthetically made in a lab using E. coli bacteria. It replicates the insulin naturally found in your body. Until the commercial availability of human insulin in the late 1900s, animal-derived insulin was used to help people manage diabetes.

Insulin analogs, a subgroup of human insulin, are also used to treat diabetes, but are genetically altered to change the way they act in your body. Insulin analogs tend to take effect more quickly than human insulin, but are often more expensive.

Different people have different needs when it comes to insulin. It’s important to work with your doctor to develop an insulin regimen that matches your individual lifestyle and requirements.