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Why insulin must stay cold

Jan 16, 2024

One of the biggest pet peeves of many living with chronic medical conditions is the inability to keep their life-saving medications cool enough to actually work.

As someone living with Type 1 Diabetes, I am completely dependent on exogenous insulin, 24/7/365, to keep my blood sugar levels in range and to maintain my day-to-day life. So, when I travel or am away from home, my insulin must be at a temperature acceptable for use when I need it.

Why? Insulin is a hormone that is made up of proteins, and when a protein molecule gets too warm, it starts to denature or unravel. When a protein starts to unravel, its utility and ability to function greatly decreases. For insulin, the threshold is met when it is exposed to 86 degrees Fahrenheit. On the flipside, if insulin gets too cold (under 32 degrees Fahrenheit), it will crystallize and not work as well either. 

So, if I were to use insulin that had gotten too warm in the Florida heat, the insulin may not work at 100% of the capacity that I expect, which can lead to high blood sugars and possibly a life-threatening situation.

A prime example of this: I work in diabetes as a registered dietitian, certified diabetes care and education specialist, and strength coach. I had a patient who was going on a summer trip that was pretty far away from home – we’re talking a plane ride away – and when he arrived, he was starving since it had been hours since he had eaten his most recent meal.

He left his luggage in the car and went into a restaurant to eat for about 90 minutes, not thinking twice that his entire insulin stash was in the car. While the temperature outside was over 80 degrees, the interior of a car gets considerably warmer than that -well hotter than 95 Degrees.

His insulin? Ruined. And even worse, because he was on an insulin pump, he had no idea until he went to do a site change that evening and after eating dinner, his blood sugars refused to return to normal.

After some troubleshooting with him in real-time, we came to the conclusion that it was the temperature of the car that ruined the insulin, and he then spent the majority of his long

weekend trying to acquire insulin from a pharmacy instead of enjoying his time away with his family.

I don’t want this to happen to you, and fortunately, there’s a great company that has mastered the art of keeping insulin (and other medications) cool enough for transit, regardless of the location or activity. Enter: 4ALLFAMILY.

The best part about 4ALLFAMILY is that they not only fundamentally understand that there is a need in this area by doing market research, but the founders actually based their company on a similar experience to the one above that happened to one of their friends, and many of the people who work at 4ALLFAMILY live with diabetes themselves. There is nothing like understanding it on a personal level! Some of the ideas they have for traveling with medications are GENIUS. Let’s dive right in:

My favorite for longer trips or outdoor activities (i.e. camping) – the Voyager.

Ever been to a hotel where you ask for a mini fridge in the room for your insulin, and they either don’t provide you with one, or, if you’re lucky enough and they do, your fridge leaks everywhere and barely keeps the insulin cold?

Say less. 

What is amazing about the Voyager is that it can hold a TON of insulin - we’re talking six to seven pens of novolog, Tresiba, Humalog, etc, or you can also store insulin vials.

This unit works on dual technology, with TWO different cooling options to keep your meds cool, and that is where it shines. You can use the Biogel Ice Pack to keep your meds at 36-46°F (2-8°C) for about 30 hours or if you have open insulin, you will be able to keep them below 86°F (26°C) for 50 hours.  

Another cooling method (my favorite) is the USB-Lid which can be connected to a wall outlet or power bank (sold separately) and keep the insulin cool indefinitely! The power bank is especially helpful for those outdoor activities where an outlet is non-existent, and it can also serve as a source of power for your phone, insulin pump, or other electronic devices.

Also, there’s no concern as to whether or not the insulin will accidentally get too cold and freeze – there’s a thermostat mechanism to which the device shuts off when it reaches 36 degrees Fahrenheit, and it won't power on until it reaches 46 degrees again. This ensures your insulin will be good to use whenever you are ready for it.

Effectively, the hotel fridge doesn’t need to exist unless you’ve got leftovers you plan to eat later.

This is TSA-approved as well, so have no fear about bringing it onto the plane on your next trip (insulin should ALWAYS be with you in your backpack or, at worst, in your carry on, so the airline can’t magically ‘lose’ it).

My favorite for quick overnight trips: the Nomad.

When you’re packing an overnight bag for a quick getaway, the last thing you want to do is spend a ton of time overpacking and lugging a ton of excessive stuff around with you. The goal is to be streamlined, simple, and succinct!

This is where the Nomad comes in – no frills, super straightforward, and does exactly what you need it to do – keep your insulin (or other medication) cool for up to 48 hours (depending on the outdoor temperature). It uses a Biogel Pack to keep the medication cool at 36 degrees Fahrenheit, and the medium nomad will hold 2-3 standard insulin pens (or a bunch of vials, should you need them).

This one is also TSA-approved, so you can fly with ease and confidence that your insulin is going to be good when you get to the final destination.


My favorite for daily excursions: the Companion.

When you were a kid, if you packed your lunch for school each day (or your parents did), you might remember the insulated, reusable lunchboxes that would keep the food cold until it was time to eat it. So your yogurt or your sandwich made it through the first half of the day without being in the fridge?

The Companion Soft Medical Cooler is the diabetes equivalent of that sturdy lunchbox – and boy, does it work WELL or what?

I used this bag on a trip to Las Vegas – a 5 hour flight for me – to test its capabilities, since airplanes tend to be warm – and it was a warmer climate.

The bag worked like a charm. I had stored my insulin vials as well as a couple backup insulin pens in it, and it was perfect. I took it through TSA without any issues, everything remained cold from the moment I packed it to the moment I landed and unpacked at the hotel, and the biogel pack was easily refrozen prior to the flight back to keep my insulin cool on the way home.

The fact that it is very lightweight and soft is fantastic, since it was very malleable and easy to fit into my backpack, which I put right underneath the seat, and there was some give to it, so my backpack being very full did not prevent it from fitting in there really easily.


Final thoughts

As someone who has lived with Type 1 diabetes for over two decades, as well as someone who works in diabetes as a professional, I’ve seen insulin issues happen both personally and professionally, and how disruptive it can be to a normal day or a special event, and it’s beyond frustrating within the moment…especially when it could have been prevented in the first place. I would highly recommend searching the 4ALLFAMILY brand for something that will work best for YOUR insulin or medication needs, keep you in motion, doing what you love, and put your mind at ease knowing that your medication will be ready for you when you need it.  As an additional resource, they have a great YouTube channel to teach you practical tips and ways to travel with medications that you can find here.



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