For many people with diabetes, especially those diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, insulin is a life-saving drug and injecting it on a daily basis is what keeps people healthy.  Ever since its invention diabetics have had longer life expectancy and a more stable and normal life.  A lot of research has gone into producing insulin and modern versions are very different from their early counterparts.  But what is the difference between modern and older insulins and are modern ones really that much better?

3 Types of Insulin

For many years since its discovery, insulin was produced from the pancreases of dead cows and pigs.  The pancreases of the animals were the by-products of the meat industry and as long as the insulin was cleaned well, it posed little problem to most diabetics.  Beef insulin came from cattle and pork from pigs, and although in earlier days some people had allergic reactions to these insulins, they became cleaner and less of a problem in later decades.  This process of obtaining insulin lasted until the 1980s when a new form was created: Human insulin.

Despite its name, human insulin does not come from human pancreases.  It was so named as it was created to mimic the insulin that non-diabetic humans produced.  This new insulin could be cultivated in a laboratory using yeast and later bacteria, to help grow it.  This made it easier to produce large amounts of insulin and meant that insulin producers didn’t have to rely on certain amounts of animals to be slaughtered in order to create the much-needed insulin.

Most diabetics were transferred onto this new human insulin which led to a decline in the use and production of animal insulins.  People continued to use it until the newest form was created.  Analogue insulin, as its known, are a new set of insulins which take insulin created in a lab and genetically engeneer it to alter some of its action.  This engineering has led to insulins which are even more effective to use in diabetics with a faster response to carbohydrate intake and no peak of insulin when relying on a background supply.  With the invention of analogue insulins most diabetics were transferred to this, and like its animal counterpart, this led to a decline in both production and use of human insulins.

Patient Choice

With each newer insulin there has been a heavy shifting of all patients onto the newer type, with little regard to whether their current regime of insulin actually worked.  For many like me – I was part of a shift from human to analogue insulin – there was little chance to disagree with the doctor and in many cases like mine, the new insulin was sold as a perfect and even better alternative to the one I was already using.

In my own experience I had had problems with my human insulin regime for a while, I was taking insulin twice a day at that point but it wasn’t working and I didn’t know why.  In hindsight I know it was a lack of knowledge of carbohydrate counting which had been lost a few years earlier, but the doctor I saw didn’t care about that, instead he insisted that I move both to multiple testing and injecting (meaning doing at least four injections a day) and he also insisted I use the new and amazing insulin that was on offer, the brand newly invented analogue insulin.

I wasn’t given much chance to argue about it and the doctor was so enthusiastic that I believed that this insulin would solve all my problems.  I did feel a little sceptical though, and worried.  I’d been told that multiple-dose injecting could lead to problems but I put all fear and doubt aside and trusted what the doctor had said.

The trouble with Analogue

On my first night trying out the new insulin I had a severe reaction that made me cry.  Along with a terrible hypoglycemic attack – I’d clearly been prescribed a dose that was too high – I suffered a reaction to the hypo that just didn’t go away.  It’s hard to describe it but I suffered from shaking and I couldn’t stop shaking and feeling like I was vibrating all night.  I also felt very ‘out of it’, like I questioned whether I was really there or if it was a dream.  It continued on into the early hours of the next day and finally subsided when the insulin had run out of my system completely.

This experience had terrified me so much, I refused to use the insulin anymore.  I went back to my old insulin and waited for my next appointment to tell them what had happened.  they couldn’t understand the reaction, but like with anything there’s always a chance of allergy, so they put me on another analogue insulin, this one was slightly newer, which did the job of lowering my blood sugars without creating the nasty reaction from the previous insulin.  I stayed using the newer analogue insulin and another fast-acting analogue as I went through a course to learn how to look after myself.  It was a special course for type 1 diabetics, it explained all about how we could care for ourselves and not need to rely on doctors so much.

Although I learned what I needed to learn, nothing in that course prepared me for what was about to happen in the next few years…I was about to question my own mind and very existence as the new insulin led me down a road of depression, doubt and near-suicidal thinking…the insulin was bout to reveal exactly how bad it really was…

-Read part 2 here
-Read part 3 here

Are you diabetic?  Have you ever had a bad reaction to medication you’ve taken?  How do you feel about patient choice in medical care?  Let me know what you think in the comments below 🙂