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Why is insulin used to treat type 1 diabetes?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

Individuals with type 1 diabetes are unable to produce insulin; therefore, the goal of insulin in a type 1 diabetic is to control blood glucose levels in the body by sustaining a level of insulin similar to that of the body. Type 1 diabetics will sometimes take multiple doses of insulin throughout the day to mimic normal insulin levels in the body.

Insulin is the standard therapy for type 1 diabetes. Insulin is a hormone that helps the body regulate blood sugar levels. It is normally produced by the pancreas, but in type 1 diabetes the pancreas is unable to produce insulin to keep blood sugar controlled. Thus, patients with type 1 diabetes are given insulin medication by injection to help keep blood sugar levels at more normal levels.

With type 1 diabetes, the pancreas no longer secretes insulin. The goal of insulin therapy is to mimic a normal pancreas as closely as possible. This often requires multiple daily injections of insulin or the use of an insulin pump and frequent blood glucose monitoring. How much insulin you need to take depends on your blood glucose level, or what you predict the level will be after a meal. Naturally, food also plays an important role in your diabetes management plan, because it contributes glucose to your blood. Usually, physical activity can lower your blood glucose level, decreasing your dose of insulin. So, you’ll need to account for exercise and physical activity in your diabetes management plan.

Insulin is used to treat type 1 diabetes because in people with type 1 diabetes, the beta cells don't work properly. This means that the body doesn't make insulin. Without insulin, glucose stays in the blood instead of entering the cells. Replacement insulin is needed to fix the problem. The dose of replacement insulin needs to be matched with blood glucose levels. A glucose meter is needed to help determine glucose levels.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.