For many of the over 34 million Americans living with diabetes, treatment often requires the use of insulin. While normally made in the pancreas, insulin is a natural hormone that helps the body regulate blood sugar. Those with Type 1 diabetes do not make insulin and need insulin injections in order to survive. As Type 2 progresses, many also find the need for regular insulin injections. For many with a fear of needles, this can often be more frightening than a new diagnosis. So why is it that you must inject insulin with a needle rather than simply take a pill?
Why Can’t I Take Insulin Orally as a Liquid or Pill?
Insulin is a hormone that helps the body move sugar from the blood into the tissues, where they use it for energy. When your pancreas does not produce insulin or your insulin is inadequate, your body needs additional insulin in order to prevent glucose from building up in the blood. Normal administration of insulin occurs via injection, and, unfortunately, that is the only way you can administer this fragile hormone.
Your stomach and digestive tract contain enzymes designed to break down what you eat. Unfortunately, these same enzymes are the reason that you cannot take insulin orally. Insulin is a poly-peptide protein that would break down in the digestive tract. By the time it reaches the small intestine where it is absorbed into the body, it would be a single peptide and no longer able to function in regulating blood glucose.
How Injection Sites Can Affect Insulin Absorption
While an injection is the only method of administration for insulin, where you inject also makes a big difference. Your insulin dose works to regulate your blood sugar and keep it stable. This stability relies on the fact that the insulin enters the blood stream within a specific timeframe. For this reason, injections should be in the subcutaneous tissue, such as the upper arm, upper thigh, abdomen, or the buttocks. Whether you use a syringe or an insulin pen, the needles are small and only reach the fatty tissue in this area. This allows it to enter the bloodstream in the desired timeframe for glucose stability.
Injecting directly into muscle tissue or into a vein increases the speed of absorption and can affect how the insulin works to regulate you blood sugar levels. When you are first diagnosed, your physician will go over exactly how and where to inject in order to achieve the best insulin delivery and glucose regulation.
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