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Insulin is a hormone that regulates the amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood and is required for the body to function normally. Insulin is produced by cells in the pancreas, called the islets of Langerhans. These cells continuously release a small amount of insulin into the body, but they release surges of the hormone in response to a rise in the blood glucose level.

Certain cells in the body change the food ingested into energy, or blood glucose, that cells can use. Every time a person eats, the blood glucose rises. Raised blood glucose triggers the cells in the islets of Langerhans to release the necessary amount of insulin. Insulin allows the blood glucose to be transported from the blood into the cells. Cells have an outer wall, called a membrane, that controls what enters and exits the cell. Researchers do not yet know exactly how insulin works, but they do know insulin binds to receptors on the cell's membrane. This activates a set of transport molecules so that glucose and proteins can enter the cell. The cells can then use the glucose as energy to carry out its functions. Once transported into the cell, the blood glucose level is returned to normal within hours.

Without insulin, the blood glucose builds up in the blood and the cells are starved of their energy source. Some of the symptoms that may occur include fatigue, constant infections, blurred eye sight, numbness, tingling in the hands or legs, increased thirst, and slowed healing of bruises or cuts. The cells will begin to use fat, the energy source stored for emergencies. When this happens for too long a time the body produces ketones, chemicals produced by the liver. Ketones can poison and kill cells if they build up in the body over an extended period of time. This can lead to serious illness and coma.

People who do not produce the necessary amount of insulin have diabetes. There are two general types of diabetes. The most severe type, known as Type I or juvenile-onset diabetes, is when the body does not produce any insulin. Type I diabetics usually inject themselves with different types of insulin three to four times daily. Dosage is taken based on the person's blood glucose reading, taken from a glucose meter. Type II diabetics produce some insulin, but it is either not enough or their cells do not respond normally to insulin. This usually occurs in obese or middle aged and older people. Type II diabetics do not necessarily need to take insulin, but they may inject insulin once or twice a day.

There are four main types of insulin manufactured based upon how soon the insulin starts working, when it peaks, and how long it lasts in the body. According to the American Diabetes Association, rapid-acting insulin reaches the blood within 15 minutes, peaks at 30-90 minutes, and may last five hours. Short-acting insulin reaches the blood within 30 minutes, it peaks about two to four hours later and stays in the blood for four to eight hours. Intermediate-acting insulin reaches the blood two to six hours after injection, peaks four to 14 hours later, and can last in the blood for 14-20 hours. And long-acting insulin takes six to 14 hours to start working, it has a small peak soon after, and stays in the blood for 20-24 hours. Diabetics each have different responses to and needs for insulin so there is no one type that works best for everyone. Some insulin is sold with two of the types mixed together in one bottle.

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