What is Oral Insulin?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Most people associate diabetes treatment with insulin shots to control blood sugar. Depending on the type of diabetes and age of onset, some people and especially children who have Type 1 diabetes will end up having tens of thousands of injections over a lifetime. There are now many companies developing injection alternatives like inhaled or transdermal insulin. The Holy Grail in this area may very well be finding a way to make oral insulin because the easiest way to control blood sugar for patients would probably be to take a pill.

Insulin inhalers allow people to inhale their insulin, and look similar to the inhalers used by asthmatics.
Insulin inhalers allow people to inhale their insulin, and look similar to the inhalers used by asthmatics.

There are both positive and negative aspects to oral insulin. When going through the digestive system to the blood stream, the body may not absorb enough of the medication. Instead, the stomach and intestines quickly eliminate insulin’s sugar-regulating properties. For many years drug researchers have been trying to find a way around this, and there are several trials in progress, likely to be finished in the 2010s that might point the way toward developing an oral insulin formulation that works.

Injecting insulin is the most popular way to treat diabetes available today.
Injecting insulin is the most popular way to treat diabetes available today.

Probably the most promising of these takes advantage of technologies already in place, which have resulted in quick dissolve medication. Instead of swallowing a pill, people would place it in under the tongue. The pill would dissolve and the medicine would enter the area under the tongue, bypassing the gut and getting straight to the bloodstream. This is still oral, avoiding the necessity of injections.

There are other researchers who are convinced methods besides oral insulin could be just as beneficial. Using transdermal patches on the skin would work in approximately the same way as an under the tongue pill. Alternately, inhaled insulin also bypasses the digestive system, and a few companies have now produced versions of it. These have not been widely preferred over injected insulin, and most haven’t been approved for use in children, who might particularly benefit from not needing to use injections.

Since oral insulin is still not approved for people, there are many questions that remain, such as who it would be appropriate for, if it would completely replace insulin shots, and most importantly, if it would work as effectively.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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