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Question:

I'm a child writing but it's about my 44 year old father, who has had diabetes since he was a kid. His druggist told him to switch from pork to Humulin because they were phasing pork out. Ever sinse he started Humulin he's been having an insulin reaction every week and his doctor isn't sure what's wrong with it. Is it true that they'll quit making beef and pork insulin? Is there anything different he could use?

Answer:

Switching insulin should only be done under a doctor's supervision, since there are differences in differing insulin products (as your father has found out!).

Semisynthetic human insulins (such as Humulin and Novolin brands) tend to work faster and last a shorter duration of time than the older insulin products that came from beef or pork origins. And the semisynthetic insulins may be purer (and hence more powerful on a unit-to-unit basis) than older insulin products.

Your dad's insulin program will need to be adjusted to make up for these differences; exactly what changes to make would depend on how many shots a day, and what kinds of insulin, that he's on. If his doctor isn't sure, your dad should ask for a referral to a nearby Diabetes Team.

The older insulin products are indeed being gradually phased out. For example, the Lilly and Novo-Nordisk companies no longer make beef Ultralente available in the United States, and any U.S. patient on Ultralente now has to use semisynthetic Ultralente, which clearly has different effects on blood sugar control (because of its shorter duration of action).

There are still some doctors who are recommending purified pork insulin, but it's quite a bit more expensive, and it's not better than semisynthetic human insulin in the opinion of most endocrinologists.

Realistically, there's not much else available for patients who've been on beef and pork insulin, except to eventually switch to the semisynthetic human insulins. The main concern about switching is exactly what happened to your dad: some patients will need their insulin programs modified because of the difference in effect. Hence, the decision to switch should be made by the patient and the doctors working together; if the doctor isn't sure what to do, the doc should contact a nearby Diabetes Team.

WWQ

Original posting 9 Jun 96

  
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Last Updated: Tuesday April 06, 2010 15:08:52
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