Basal insulin: beyond glycemia.


Insulin is a pleiotropic hormone with numerous effects at the cellular, tissue, and organismal levels. Clinicians are familiar with physiological effects of insulin on carbohydrate metabolism, including stimulation of glucose uptake in skeletal muscle and the suppression of glucose production from the liver. Other metabolic effects of insulin include inhibiting the release of free fatty acids from adipose tissue and stimulating the incorporation of amino acids into proteins. Indeed, every organ in the body, including the brain, is a target for insulin action. Insulin resistance, typically defined with respect to glucose metabolism, is a condition in which normal levels of insulin do not trigger the signal for glucose disposition. The effects of insulin resistance and impaired insulin signaling have profound pathophysiologic effects, such as hyperglycemia-induced tissue damage, hypertension, dyslipidemia, metabolic syndrome, and cardiovascular and renal disease. An integrated view of insulin action in all of these tissues may yield improved therapeutic insight and possibly even illuminate new therapeutic opportunities. With the increase in the number of patients diagnosed with prediabetes and diabetes, an updated understanding of the disease and the pharmacologic armamentarium used to treat it is needed to improve outcomes. To help expand the clinical care provider's perspective, this article will provide a provocative discussion about the pathophysiology of diabetes, the role of insulin and insulin resistance, and the clinical efficacy potential of insulin. Understanding the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying the effects of insulin and how these translate into clinical consequences beyond glycemia will assist primary care physicians in the care of their patients with diabetes and metabolic syndrome.