Insulin is one of the oldest treatments for diabetes, first hitting the market in the 1920s. It remains one of the most effective treatments for the disease, says Dr. David Dannenbaum of the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay.

dialysis 7Despite its effectiveness, Dannenbaum said the medication strangely has developed a bad reputation.

 Dannenbaum said that he often encounters Cree who see insulin as something that their elderly uncle was given just before he was sent down to Montreal to have his leg amputated and ending up on dialysis.

 “People make this association of insulin as something that causes amputations or dialysis. This is not true,” Dannenbaum emphasized. “Many people refuse insulin and it is often started on it very late, at which point it is not the insulin but the longstanding poorly controlled diabetes that caused them to have consequences from the disease.”

The reality is that prescribed insulin is almost exactly the same as natural insulin produced by our bodies. Because this medicine has been around for over 50 years, it has been proven to be very safe. While it does take a bit of time to learn how to use it properly, once a patient learns it is successful at getting sugars down to healthy levels. Patients are often proud of their accomplishments with it and in turn feel more awake, stronger and healthier.

Dannenbaum says the practice of prescribing insulin only when there is no other recourse is an old-school approach. Doctors are now finding that prescribing it earlier can have very positive results because it can replace the insulin that is missing in the body and allow a patient’s pancreas to rest.

When a diabetic first starts treatment, insulin is often taken once a day, at night before bed. When the patient wakes up in the morning they will often feel better because their blood sugar has come back to more normal values. The other advantage is that the pancreas is able to rest overnight. By using this method of treatment a patient’s pancreas will often stay healthy for a longer time.

“A lot of people have the impression that insulin is for ‘bad’ diabetes and they feel good so they can’t have ‘bad’ diabetes. But, actually the opposite is true. The only kind of diabetes that is ‘bad’ is when the blood sugars are high and this causes complications of diabetes. Insulin is one of the best medicines to help you keep your blood sugar ‘good’ and keep you feeling healthy and strong,” explained Dannenbaum.

Insulin is also used when someone is first diagnosed with diabetes as a way to quickly get the blood sugar back to healthy levels, and let the pancreas recover some function. Often, if a patient uses insulin for two to six months and then makes some healthy lifestyle changes (physical activity and cutting out junk food and sugar drinks), the insulin can sometimes be stopped and the blood sugar remains at healthy levels.

“Although most people with diabetes for many years continue to use insulin throughout their life, when it is used at the diagnosis of diabetes like this, it often can be stopped and does not mean that you are on it forever. Many people also chose to stay on insulin because it works so well, and they feel so much better when they are using insulin,” said Dannenbaum.

For more information on whether insulin is the right treatment for you contact your local clinic.