Insulin is a life-saving medication that is widely used around the globe to treat Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes. Before insulin’s discovery in 1921, Diabetes was essentially a death sentence that could only be ineffectively managed with extreme diet modifications.

Today, millions of people with Diabetes live long, healthy, and active lives thanks to insulin drugs. That being said, managing Diabetes with insulin is a complex process that involves the development of an individualized treatment plan and ongoing monitoring with oversight from a healthcare professional.

If you require regular insulin treatments, you may feel overwhelmed by the vast range of available insulin medications. Your doctor or healthcare provider will work with you to determine the most effective drug (or combination of drugs) for your specific needs, circumstances, and health goals, but you may still wish to gain a more in-depth understanding of the differences that distinguish various insulin medications from one another.

In this article, we’ve explored the similarities and differences between two popular insulin drugs known as Humulin N and Humalog. We’ve provided an overview of each drug and considered their comparative uses, doses, forms, administration methods, side effects, costs, and more.

The information below is not a replacement for medical advice and is only intended as a reference to help you compare Humulin and Humalog. For specific questions about which type of medication (if either) may be appropriate for your health needs, speak directly with your doctor or healthcare provider.

What Is Insulin?

Natural insulin is a hormone produced in the human pancreas. Its primary function is to allow blood glucose (sugar) to enter body cells and be metabolized into energy. Insulin lowers the amount of glucose in the bloodstream and works with another hormone produced in the liver, glucagon, to balance blood sugar levels and keep them within an optimal range at all times.

People with Diabetes either don’t produce insulin at all (Type 1 Diabetes) or have developed a resistance to insulin and/or suffer from reduced insulin production (Type 2 Diabetes). In both cases, insulin drugs may be used to control high blood sugar levels and manage blood glucose on an ongoing basis.

Historically, insulin from cows and pigs was used to treat diabetic patients, but in the 1980s, laboratory-made insulin became widely available. Today, laboratory-made insulin medications fall into two main categories:

  • Human Insulin – Human insulin is a laboratory-made medication that closely mimics the natural insulin produced by the human body.
  • Insulin Analogs – These types of insulin are similar to human insulin but are genetically engineered to impact the body in slightly different ways. They often act at different speeds than human insulin.

In addition to the way they are engineered and manufactured, insulin medications are also classified by how quickly they impact blood sugar levels in the body. The four main types of insulin are rapid-acting insulin, fast-acting insulin, intermediate-acting insulin, and long-acting insulin. Each has its own unique onset (the speed at which it acts), peak (the time it takes to reach maximum impact), and duration (the length of time before it wears off). Let’s take a closer look:

  • Rapid-Acting Insulin
    • Also known as fast-acting insulin or mealtime insulin
    • Covers insulin needs at mealtimes
    • Begins to work within 15 minutes; peaks in 1-2 hours; lasts between 2-4 hours
  • Short-Acting Insulin
    • Also known as regular insulin
    • Covers insulin needs at mealtimes
    • Begins to work within 30 minutes; peaks in 2-3 hours; lasts between 3-6 hours
  • Intermediate-Acting Insulin
    • Also known as basal insulin
    • Covers insulin needs between mealtimes and overnight
    • Begins to work within 2-4 hours; peaks in 4-12 hours; lasts between 12-18 hours
  • Long-Acting Insulin
    • Also known as basal insulin
    • Covers insulin needs between mealtimes and overnight
    • Begins to work within several hours; lowers glucose levels for up to 24 hours

Key Differences

Humulin N and Humalog are both insulin drugs used to manage blood sugar levels in people with Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes. Before we take a deep dive into comparing these two medications, let’s identify a few of the key differences between them:

  • Active Ingredient: The active ingredient in Humulin N is insulin isophane human (a human insulin). The active ingredient in Humalog is insulin lispro (an insulin analog).
  • Type of Insulin: Humulin N is an intermediate-acting insulin. Humalog is a rapid-acting insulin.
    Note: Both Humulin N and Humalog are also available as combination insulin medications that include intermediate and shorter-acting insulins. These are known as Humulin 70/30 or 50/50 and Humalog Mix 50/50 or 75/25. The scope of this article does not cover these combination drugs. For more information, speak directly with your doctor or healthcare provider.
      In addition, Humulin N should not be confused with Humulin R, a short-acting human insulin often referred to as regular human insulin, human regular insulin, or simply regular insulin.
  • Indication: Humulin N is indicated for the treatment of Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes in children and adults. Humalog is indicated for the treatment of Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes in adults, as well as Type 1 Diabetes in children ages 3 and older.

Overview

Humulin N and Humalog are both brand-name prescription insulin medications manufactured by Eli Lilly and Company. They are both FDA-approved for treating Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes and may be used to lower and regulate blood sugar levels in adults and children (Humalog is only approved for use in children older than 3 with Type 1 Diabetes).

Though they ultimately have similar purposes, Humulin and Humalog have many features that distinguish them from one another and are typically prescribed under different circumstances. Let’s take a closer look:

Uses of Humalog and Humulin

Humulin N is an intermediate-acting insulin, also sometimes referred to as basal insulin. It is usually used to regulate blood sugar levels between mealtimes and overnight.

Humalog, on the other hand, is a rapid-acting insulin, also sometimes called mealtime insulin. It is usually used to mitigate spikes in blood sugar associated with food consumption.

Dosage

The dosage of insulin drugs like Humulin N and Humalog is not standardized like many other medications. Rather, the right dose for your needs will be determined by your doctor or healthcare provider based on your specific blood sugar levels, patterns, and response to insulin.

Type 1 Diabetes Dosage

Generally speaking, Humulin represents approximately 50% of the total daily insulin intake for patients with Type 1 Diabetes.  Humalog represents approximately 50% of the total daily insulin intake divided between meals.

Type 2 Diabetes Dosage

For patients with Type 2 Diabetes, Humulin is dosed based on body weight at a ratio of approximately 0.1 to 0.2 units per kilogram per day (1 kilogram = 2.2 lbs.). Humalog is frequently dosed as either 10% of the total daily insulin dosage or in an amount of 4 units per day, divided between meals.

Forms

Humulin N is available in the following forms:

  • Multiple-use vials
  • Single-use injection pens

It comes in strengths of U-100 (100 units of insulin/mL) or U-200 (200 units of insulin/mL).

Humalog is available in the following forms:

  • Single-use cartridges
  • Multiple-use vials
  • Single-use injection pens

It comes in a strength of U-100 (100 units of insulin/mL).

Administration

Your doctor or healthcare provider will tell you exactly what dosage of Humulin N or Humalog to take and when, where, and how to inject it. It is critical that you carefully follow these instructions. Injecting insulin improperly can have serious medical ramifications.

Side Effects

Like all prescription medications, Humulin N and Humalog both come with a list of potential side effects. While mild side effects may decrease or resolve entirely over time, they can still negatively impact your quality of life and should be reported if ongoing. It’s also important to be aware of the more serious side effects that can be associated with these drugs and know how to recognize and treat them.

Mild Side Effects

  • Injection site reactions
  • Mild low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
  • Skin rash or itching
  • Weight gain
  • Swelling of the extremities
  • Headache or gastrointestinal issues (Humalog only)

Serious Side Effects

Seek medical attention immediately if you experience any of the following while taking Humulin N or Humalog:

  • Severe allergic reaction
    • Hives
    • Swelling of the tongue, throat, or face
    • Vomiting
    • Dizziness or fainting
    • Weak or rapid pulse
  • Severe hypoglycemia
    • Shakiness
    • Confusion
    • Rapid pulse
    • Dizziness
    • Poor coordination
    • Blurred vision
    • Sweating
    • Seizures
    • Coma
    • Death
  • Severe low blood potassium
    • Heart palpitations
    • Fatigue
    • Muscle weakness or spasms
    • Tingling and/or numbness

See also: Insulin Overdose Symptons & Risks

Effectiveness of Humulin and Humalog

The results of the Humalog studies referred to below can all be accessed through the drug’s prescribing information:

Two clinical studies involving both adult and pediatric patients found that Humalog was as effective as Humulin R (regular human insulin) in controlling HbA1c levels in patients with Type 1 Diabetes over a 12-month period and an 8-month period, respectively. Another study measuring the effects of Humalog on the HbA1c levels of patients with Type 2 Diabetes found similar results.

Clinical research into recombinant human insulins, including Humulin N, indicates that they are a safe and effective option for managing both Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes.

Cost of Humulin and Humalog

The cost of Humulin or Humalog drugs depends on a wide variety of factors, including the dose you are prescribed, the location where you purchase them, and whether or not you have insurance coverage for these medications.

If affordability is a concern for you, speak with your doctor or healthcare provider about the possibility of using generic insulin medications instead of name-brand drugs like Humulin N and Humalog.

Precautions

Humulin N and Humalog medications may negatively interact with many different medications, including the following (not an exhaustive list):

  • Antidepressants
  • Antipsychotics
  • HIV medicines
  • Hormone medications
  • Other antidiabetic medications
  • Certain heart medications
  • Certain antibiotics

It is critical to tell your doctor or healthcare provider about all medicines you are taking before starting Humulin N or Humalog, including natural supplements and over-the-counter drugs. If you are considering starting any new medications or supplements while on Humulin or Humalog, be sure to check with a healthcare professional first.

In addition, talk with your doctor or healthcare provider before using Humulin N or Humalog if:

  • You are pregnant, breastfeeding, or planning to become pregnant
  • You are prone to low blood potassium or low blood sugar levels
  • You suffer from issues with your liver or kidneys

For more comprehensive precautionary information see the Prescribing Information for Humulin and the Prescribing Information for Humalog.

The Verdict?

To conclude, Humulin N and Humalog are both safe and effective medications that are prescribed for managing blood sugar levels in people with Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes. Though they treat the same condition, they have different active ingredients, act at various rates in the body, and have slightly different indications in terms of use in pediatric populations.

The verdict? Both of these insulin drugs are effective in their own right, but only your doctor or healthcare provider will be able to determine whether or not one of them may be the right fit for your particular needs and circumstances.

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FAQ

What Is an Insulin Analog?

Insulin analogs are laboratory-made insulin medications similar to human insulin medications but have been genetically modified to act on the body in slightly different ways. For example, insulin analogs may act more quickly or slowly in the body than human insulin.

What Types of Humulin Are There?

The types of Humulin currently available include:

  • Humulin R – A short-acting insulin also known as regular insulin
  • Humulin N – An intermediate-acting insulin
  • Humulin 70/30 or 50/50 – A combination insulin that contains both insulin isophane human and regular human insulin (Humulin R)

What Types of Humalog Are There?

The types of Humalog currently available include:

  • Humalog – A rapid-acting insulin known as insulin lispro
  • Humalog Mix 50/50 or 75/25 – A combination insulin that contains both insulin lispro and protamine

What Is the Closest Insulin to Humalog?

Humalog’s active ingredient is insulin lispro. Speak with your doctor or healthcare provider to learn more about generic medications that may offer similar benefits at a more affordable price.

Is Humulin Fast or Slow-Acting?

Humulin N is intermediate-acting, while Humulin R is short-acting. Humulin 70/30 and 50/50 combine the properties of short and intermediate-acting insulin in one medication.

About the Author

Ida Edlweiss Gumpal is a licensed Pharmacist and medical writer. She took her internships at Mercury Drug Corporation, Inc., a Hospital internship at De Vera Medical Center, Inc., and a Manufacturing internship at Philmed Laboratories, Inc. She has plans on attending medical school with the goal of specializing in Neurosurgery or Cardiothoracic surgery.