You may know that insulin is a naturally occurring hormone and a life-saving diabetes injection that regulates blood sugar levels. But did you know that it has other functions as well? Or that its patent was sold for $1 only and that it can also be used in cosmetic products?
From its historical discovery to its current uses in diabetes management and beyond, read on and discover some fascinating facts about insulin!

Related article: Does Insulin Need to Be Refrigerated? How to Store it Correctly?

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8 Interesting Insulin Facts!

Fact 1: Insulin has more functions than blood sugar regulation

While insulin is best known and used for blood sugar regulation in diabetic patients, the hormone actually has many other functions in the body, including:

  • Promoting the storage of glucose (glycogen) in the liver and muscle tissue.
  • Promoting fat storage in adipose tissue for later use for energy when blood sugar levels are low.
  • Stimulating protein synthesis by facilitating the uptake of amino acids into cells.

Additionally, insulin has been shown to have anti-inflammatory[1] effects and potentially help reduce the risk of chronic diseases like Alzheimer's or heart disease. It's even been studied for its chemotherapy-boosting and antitumor effects[2]. Interesting fact, isn't it?
Related article: How to Keep Insulin Cold While Traveling?

Fact 2: Some people are insulin resistant

Insulin resistance is a widespread condition where the cells become less responsive to insulin. As a result, the pancreas needs to produce more insulin to lower the same amount of blood sugar. Eventually, this often leads to "pancreatic burnout," where the pancreas can't keep up with the high demand for insulin, causing high blood sugar levels. Insulin resistance, also called impaired insulin sensitivity, is directly linked to increased risks of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.
While some people are genetically predisposed to insulin resistance, other risk factors include being overweight, obese, having an unhealthy diet high in sugar and processed foods, or having a sedentary lifestyle.
Related article: 10 Tips That Work To Inject Insulin Without Pain!

Fact 3: High levels of insulin are also a condition

High levels of insulin in the bloodstream, also known as hyperinsulinemia, can also cause many health complications, including high blood pressure, heart disease, weight gain, chronic fatigue, and metabolic syndrome.  
The most common cause of hyperinsulinemia is insulin resistance, where the pancreas must release higher insulin doses to lower blood glucose levels. Certain medications and underlying health conditions like pancreatic cancers can also cause hyperinsulinemia.

Related article: How to Calculate Your Insulin Dose Correctly?

Fact 4: Bodybuilders use insulin for muscle growth

Did you know that one in four bodybuilders who takes steroids also takes insulin? That’s quite a surprising insulin fact! Combining the two is believed to considerably increase metabolic rate, anabolic metabolism, and muscle growth.  
However, we do not recommend this off-label use of insulin, as it can seriously affect one's health.
Related article: A Step-by-Step Guide to Using Insulin Pens for Injections!

Fact 5: Insulin was used as a schizophrenia treatment

What? Yes, that's right, insulin was once used to treat schizophrenia and other mental illnesses. But fortunately, it's not the case anymore!
A 1930s Austrian psychiatrist, Manfred Sakel, believed that inducing a coma by injecting large doses of insulin could help reset the brain and cure mental disorders. However, insulin coma therapy raised concerns about safety and effectiveness, causing severe side effects like seizures, brain damage, and even death. Besides, the research did not allow to support its efficacy for schizophrenia or other mental illnesses. Therefore, this practice is no longer considered valid.

Fact 6: Insulin used to be made from cows' and pigs' pancreas

Insulin production was first developed in the 1920s by Canadian scientists Frederick Banting and Charles Best. Back then, it used to be extracted from the pancreases of cows and pigs.
To obtain insulin from these animals, their pancreas would first be removed, and the insulin-containing cells, known as the islets of Langerhans, would be isolated. The insulin would then be extracted from the cells and purified before being distributed to human patients.
While animal-derived insulin was a major breakthrough in the treatment of diabetes, it did have some drawbacks, including side effects like allergic reactions and immune system response, as well as a time-consuming and labor-intensive extraction process.
Since the 1980s, most insulins used for diabetes management are synthetic. 
Related article: How Long Can a Diabetic Go Without Insulin?

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Fact 7: Insulin is used in cosmetic products

It may come as a surprising fact about insulin: insulin has been gaining quite a lot of popularity in the cosmetic market. Indeed, it has some interesting properties for skin care, including:
  • Promoting skin cell growth and repair.
  • Simulating collagen production to prevent wrinkles and signs of aging.
  • Moisturizing the skin thanks to its humectant effect that helps retain moisture and reduce dryness.

However, cosmetic products made with insulin do raise some concerns as they could affect hormone levels in the body. More research is needed to understand the benefits and risks of the topical use of insulin.

Related article: What is Mounjaro and How Does it Work for Diabetes and Weight Loss?

Fact 8: The insulin patent was sold for $1

That’s correct: $1 only! In 1923, a group of Canadian researchers at the University of Toronto filed for a patent on insulin, hoping to secure exclusive rights to its production and distribution.
However, scientists soon worried that if insulin were patented, it would become too expensive and inaccessible to those who needed it most.
As a result, the researchers ended up selling the patent to the University of Toronto for just $1, so the life-saving medicine could be produced and distributed widely.
Related article: Mounjaro vs. Ozempic, A Comparison in Diabetes and Weight-Loss Therapies. 
There are plenty of interesting facts about insulin! If you know any, please share them in the comments below!

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Trusted Sources:

[1] Sun Q, Li J, Gao F. New insights into insulin: The anti-inflammatory effect and its clinical relevance. World J Diabetes. 2014 Apr 15;5(2):89-96. doi: 10.4239/wjd.v5.i2.89. PMID: 24765237; PMCID: PMC3992527.
[2] Agrawal S, Woźniak M, Łuc M, Makuch S, Pielka E, Agrawal AK, Wietrzyk J, Banach J, Gamian A, Pizon M, Ziółkowski P. Insulin enhancement of the antitumor activity of chemotherapeutic agents in colorectal cancer is linked with downregulating PIK3CA and GRB2. Sci Rep. 2019 Nov 12;9(1):16647. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-53145-x. PMID: 31719636; PMCID: PMC6851401.

April 24, 2023

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The information presented in this article and its comment section is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a replacement for professional medical advice. Always consult with a qualified healthcare provider for any medical concerns or questions you may have.