What is Humalog?

Published August 5th, 2020 by Chris Riley
Fact Checked by
Bridget Reed
Medically Reviewed:
Camille Freking
Updated Date: Jul 13th, 2021

Diabetes is a disease in which the pancreas of the body cannot produce enough insulin to process sugar intake. This results in the accumulation of high blood sugar levels, or hyperglycemia. A hundred years ago, being diagnosed with diabetes meant certain fatality. With no medication available to treat this condition, the only treatment was a change in diet to reduce sugar and carbohydrate intake. This could save the patient for at most a few years, but being diagnosed with the disease was an eventual death sentence. Some patients could eat so little in order to control their blood sugar through their diet that they died of starvation. Today, diabetes is a largely treatable condition in which people can still live long and healthy lives as long as they control the condition with medication. Lifestyle factors still play a part, but what transformed diabetes into being a treatable condition that can be managed was the development of artificial human insulin that can be used by patients to control their blood sugar levels. 

Diabetes can be either type 1 or type 2.  In both conditions, glucose from the food that we eat cannot be transported to cells to be turned into energy. This is because in diabetic people, the hormone that normally does this, called insulin, is either not produced enough by the pancreas, or it is not produced at all. Type 1 diabetes, also called insulin-dependent diabetes, is an autoimmune condition in which the body cannot produce insulin at all because the body’s own immune system attacks the pancreas and damages it making it unable to produce insulin. This type of diabetes is usually diagnosed in childhood. In type 2 diabetes, also called non-insulin-dependent diabetes or adult-onset diabetes, the pancreas produces insulin, but it is either not used properly for transporting glucose to cells, or not enough of it is produced for this purpose. Type 2 diabetes occurs mostly in adults. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that more than 122 million Americans are currently living with diabetes.  This estimate includes 88 million people with prediabetes, a condition that puts you at a higher risk for developing diabetes. 

Diabetes has no cure and must be treated to prevent further serious health risks. If diabetes is not managed, it can lead to increased risk of the following serious health consequences:

  • Heart Disease or heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Damage to the eyes (diabetic retinopathy)
  • Damage to the nerves (diabetic neuropathy)
  • Damage to kidneys (diabetic nephropathy)
  • Impaired wound healing

One factor that drastically changed how well synthetic insulin could work in patients was the development of ‘rapid-acting’ insulin. This type of insulin starts working faster in the body than other types of insulin. Without this type of synthetic insulin, patients would often have trouble controlling their blood glucose levels after eating a meal. Rapid-acting insulin is absorbed faster into the bloodstream, allowing it to process the large amounts of glucose that accumulate into the body after a meal. The first fast acting insulin to be FDA-approved, and is widely used by diabetes patients today, is Humalog. 

How was Humalog developed?

The discovery that insulin can be administered to diabetes patients to bring their blood sugar levels down to normal is credited to a surgeon, Frederick Banting, and his assistant, Charles Best, in the early 1920s. This early version of insulin that was used in diabetes patients came from animals like cattle and pigs. Banting and Best received the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1923 for their breakthrough discovery and insulin from animals was used in patients for years. However, animal-derived insulin caused allergic reactions in some patients since the structure of animal insulin is slightly different than human insulin. Later, in 1978, the first artificial human insulin was created by introducing the human insulin gene into the bacteria, E. coli. This synthetic or ‘recombinant’ version of human insulin was marketed by Eli Lilly as ‘Humulin’ in the early 1980s. Humulin is a biosynthetic drug of regular insulin, meaning that it is created exactly like the insulin in the human body and it is used for long-term diabetes treatment. 

Eli Lilly continued their research to develop a version of insulin that would reduce the incidence of ‘hypoglycemia’ or low blood sugar that occurs with regular insulin use. Humalog, also called ‘insulin lispro’, is an insulin analog developed by Eli Lilly that contains a slight modification to the biological structure of natural insulin.  Insulin analogs mimic the body’s natural insulin function, but they have slight structural changes that give them additional benefits. Natural human insulin consists of two polypeptide chains that are joined together. In Humalog, the last two amino acids of the B chain lysine and proline have been switched in position. This gives insulin lispro a higher rate of absorption into the bloodstream allowing it to reach peak concentration faster than regular insulin. Thus, it was the first ‘rapid-acting’ insulin to be developed and approved for use by the FDA in 1996. 

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How is Humalog different from other types of insulin? 

Humalog is a type of rapid acting insulin. This type of insulin takes about 10 to 15 minutes to be absorbed into the bloodstream. After this, they reach peak concentration in about one hour, and their effects last for about two to three hours. This makes them the perfect type of insulin for use at meal or snack times when a rapid spike in blood glucose levels is expected. Although other types of rapid acting insulin can be similar, it’s important to understand the differences between each medication. For example, when comparing Humalog vs. Novolog, a patient should understand that one cannot be used in place of the other. 

In contrast, regular insulin can take 30 minutes to start working, has a peak concentration at 2 to 4 hours post-administration, and its effects last for about eight hours. 

Intermediate insulin takes 1 to 2 hours to start working, reaches a peak concentration after 4 to 6 hours, and its effects last for about 12 hours. Since this type of insulin is absorbed slower and lasts longer, it is used overnight and during fasting or between meals. 

Long acting insulin has an onset of 1 to 1.5 hours, plateaus after a few hours, and has a slow duration of reaction that lasts for up to 24 hours. Long acting insulin has the longest duration of action so it is also used overnight and in between meals or during fasting.  

Usually, an insulin regimen may include more than one type of insulin. These must be used exactly as prescribed by your doctor for maximum benefit and to reduce the amount of side effects that may occur. 

Humalog dosage, side effects, and interactions

Humalog insulin is recommended for use by adults or children with type 1 or type 2 diabetes that are above the age of 3 years. Humalog is available as 3 mL or 10 mL vials or 3mL cartridges or prefilled pens. All formulations of Humalog have 100 units/mL of insulin in them. Humalog is administered through a subcutaneous injection under the skin. It should be used 15 minutes before a meal. Research has shown that Humalog takes about 15 minutes to start working after injection and it reaches peak concentration in one hour. The effects of Humalog last for 2 to 3 hours. Commonly reported side effects include hypoglycemia if too much insulin is injected, weight gain, nausea, diarrhea, headache, stomach ache, sore throat or muscle weakness. Some of the adverse drug interactions that can occur with Humalog include other types of insulin, corticosteroids, anti-psychotic drugs, and beta-blockers. This is not an exhaustive list of Humalog drug interactions and if you are taking any of these drugs, or any other prescription medication, inform your doctor or physician to prevent a drug interaction from occurring. 

More information on Humalog including how to use it, more drug interactions and Humalog side effects can be found here

How to save on Humalog

If you are prescribed Humalog insulin as a part of your treatment of diabetes, it can be picked up from a pharmacy with your prescription as the brand-name version or the generic, insulin lispro. The cost of Humalog can be quite high. The average price of Humalog is about $300 at pharmacies across the country. As Humalog is a prescription medication that must be used long-term, the steep price of Humalog can become quite a cost burden on diabetic patients. Health insurance can help you save, but additional savings can be found with a drug discount coupon. For people without prescription drug coverage under their health insurance plan, looking into this option can be especially beneficial. You can find drug discount coupons for Humalog from USA Rx. Since Humalog must be used regularly, a pharmacy discount card is another good way to save on the cost of the drug. USA Rx also offers a free and convenient card that can be presented at your pharmacy when you fill your prescription. Sign up for the card online and take the card in with you to over 90% of pharmacies across the nation to start saving. Remember to take Humalog according to the instruction recommended to you by your doctor or pharmacist to get the maximum benefits. Diabetes does not have a cure, but the availability of medications like Humalog can allow you to still have a wholesome and healthy life by managing your condition. 

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