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What Is Insulin - The Complete Guide

By Ray Kelly

You might have heard of insulin in connection with the disease known as diabetes. Still, you might be curious about insulin"what it means for the body and what can happen if the body does not produce enough of it. In addition, chances are you know little about the history of insulin and how science's knowledge of insulin has changed over the years.

To begin with, knowledge about insulin is a relatively new phenomenon. Berlin medical student Paul Langerhans first discovered insulin in 1869. Using a microscope, Langerhans noticed a heap of cells in the pancreas which later became known as the Islets of Langerhans. Later, scientists surmised that these cells produce insulin, which regulates carbohydrate metabolism. In January of 1922, Leonard Thompson, a 14-year-old diabetic, received the first insulin injection. Because the extract was impure, Thompson experienced a severe allergic reaction. As a result, doctors cancelled future insulin injections for Thompson. However, in later years, researchers were able to perfect insulin injections, making them the primary means of treating diabetes.

In addition to its role in metabolism, insulin controls the storage and release of fat, the cellular uptake of amino acids and electrolytes, and affects small vessel muscle tone. In fact, the concentration of insulin can affect the entire body. This is why diabetics can suffer a variety of side-effects, including blindness and slow healing of wounds. Those who suffer from type 1 diabetes require insulin injections in order to survive, while type 2 diabetes patients may need insulin if other medication and dietary changes are ineffective in controlling blood glucose levels.

At this point, it is not possible to take insulin orally. Instead, insulin is administered through syringes with needles, or insulin pens with needles. However, there are a number of problems associated with insulin as a treatment for diabetes. For instance, it can be difficult to determine the appropriate dose of insulin. The dosage, as well as the timing of the dosage, must often be adjusted, based upon eating habits, exercise routines, or the additional stress of illness. Insulin injections can be a nuisance for patients and, if the patient makes a mistake in terms of dosage, they can actually be dangerous.

Still, when it is used appropriately, insulin can help restore the body's metabolism to normal levels. As a result, through proper administration of insulin, athletes and artists can perform at their optimal level without difficulty. For instance, Olympic swimmer Gary Hall Jr. is an example of a diabetic who has been helped by insulin, while David Crosby of the singing group Crosby, Stills & Nash has also benefited from insulin injections.

In the year 2004, the former spouse of an international track star maintained that the athlete had used insulin to energize the body. The report promoted the idea that the hormone insulin could be utilized like a steroid in enhancing the body's functions. However, researchers say that insulin does not have the same effects as steroids. They say that eight decades of steroid use do not indicate that insulin could be used as a performance-enhancing drug for those who are not diabetics. While insulin can help to alleviate fatigue for those with diabetes, it does not have the same chemical composition as a steroid. Therefore, doctors say that the use of insulin by non-diabetics is, in fact, dangerous.

Proper use of insulin is essential for those with type 1 diabetes. It can enable them to lead a normal, productive life. However, while insulin is a legitimate treatment for diabetes, it is not a cure. Research is now underway to try to make diabetes a disease of the past and to make insulin injections unnecessary.

About The Author

Ray Kelly is an Exercise Scientist with 15 years experience in the health industry. Sign up for his Free Exercise and Meal Planner at or


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