How many mL is an IU?

International Units (IU) and milliliters (mL) are both units used to measure the amounts or concentrations of certain substances, especially in medicine and pharmacology. However, they represent different types of measurements and cannot be directly converted between one another. This article will explain what IUs and mLs are, when they are used, and why a direct conversion between them is not possible.

What is an International Unit (IU)?

An International Unit is a standardized amount of a substance, especially vitamins, enzymes, hormones, or drugs. The IU represents the biological activity or effect, rather than the absolute mass or volume of the substance. For example, 1 IU of vitamin E has the same biological activity as 1 mg of d-alpha-tocopherol. The IU was established to provide a universal standard for measuring and comparing the potencies of these substances.

Some key points about IUs:

  • IU is a unit of activity or effect, not mass or volume
  • Used for measuring vitamins, enzymes, hormones, drugs, vaccines, etc.
  • Allows comparing potency between different forms or sources of a substance
  • Standardized by the WHO Expert Committee on Biological Standardization

The IU represents how biologically active a substance is. A higher number of IUs indicates greater potency. For example, one product may contain 100 IU of vitamin C while another contains 500 IU of vitamin C, telling you the latter product provides 5 times the vitamin C activity.

What is a Milliliter (mL)?

A milliliter (mL) is a metric unit of volume. It describes how much physical space a liquid substance takes up. There are 1000 milliliters in one liter. In the medical field, milliliters are commonly used to measure:

  • Volumes of liquids like medications, injectable solutions, intravenous fluids
  • Fluid volumes collected, drained, or excreted from the body
  • Capacity of syringes, tubing, and other devices used to administer or contain liquids

Some key points about mL:

  • mL is a volume measurement (how much physical space a liquid takes up)
  • Used to quantify medications, IV fluids, body fluids, syringe volumes, etc.
  • Based on the metric system – 1000 mL in 1 liter
  • Can be converted to other volume units like liters, cups, ounces, etc.

The mL tells you the absolute amount or volume of a liquid, unlike the IU which only represents the potency or biological activity. Larger mL values correspond to greater volumes of a liquid substance.

Why IUs and mLs Cannot Be Directly Converted

While both units may be used when quantifying drugs or vitamins, IUs and mLs represent fundamentally different types of measurements. IUs measure biological activity, whereas mLs measure volume. There is no fixed conversion ratio between them.

The same volume of liquid can contain different amounts of active substance and therefore have different potencies. For example:

  • 1 mL of Drug A at 100 IU/mL concentration = 100 IUs
  • 1 mL of Drug A at 50 IU/mL concentration = 50 IUs

As you can see, the IU depends on the concentration, while the mL is fixed. Some key reasons why IUs and mLs cannot be directly converted include:

  • IU measures potency, mL measures volume
  • Concentration can vary between formulations
  • Biological response depends on many factors
  • No universal IU to mL conversion factor exists

When Are IUs and mLs Used?

Understanding when IUs and mLs are most appropriate can help avoid confusion between the two units:

  • IUs – Quantifying potency or biological activity of vitamins, enzymes, hormones, vaccines, medications like insulin, heparin, penicillin, etc.
  • mLs – Measuring volumes of liquids like IV fluids, blood or urine output, medication amounts, syringe capacities, etc.

Some examples:

  • “This vial contains 1000 IUs of vitamin D3”
  • “Take 20 IU of insulin before each meal”
  • “The patient was administered 500 mL of 0.9% saline solution intravenously”
  • “A dose is 2 mL injected subcutaneously”

In these cases, the units used depend on whether the aim is to quantify biological potency or liquid volume. Attempting to convert directly between the two would not be meaningful.

How to Convert Between IUs and mLs

While there is no universal conversion ratio between IUs and mLs, it is possible to calculate the IUs in a given volume for a particular substance, if you know its concentration:

IUs = Volume in mL x Concentration in IU/mL

Likewise, if you know the IUs and the concentration, you can calculate the volume in mL:

Volume in mL = IUs / Concentration in IU/mL

For example:

  • Insulin concentration is 100 IU/mL
  • Dose is 50 IUs of insulin
  • Volume needed = Dose (IUs) / Concentration (IU/mL) = 50 IUs / 100 IU/mL = 0.5 mL

So while the IU and mL cannot be directly interchanged, you can use the concentration to convert between them for a specific drug or compound.

IU to mL Conversion Table

Here is a table providing some common IU to mL conversions for different substances, based on standard concentrations:

Substance Standard Concentration IU to mL Conversion
Vitamin A 1 IU/0.3 μg 1 IU = 0.3 μg/mL
Vitamin D 40 IU/1 μg 1 IU = 0.025 μg/mL
Vitamin E 1 IU/1 mg 1 IU = 1 mg/mL
Insulin 100 IU/mL 1 IU = 0.01 mL
Heparin 1000 IU/mL 1 IU = 0.001 mL
Penicillin G 1600 IU/mg 1 IU = 0.625 μg/mL

This table demonstrates how the IU/mL conversion depends on the specific concentration for each drug or compound. It is not a universal conversion ratio.

Other Ways IUs are Expressed

In addition to per mL, IUs may also be expressed in other ways, for example:

  • IU/mg – International Units per milligram
  • IU/g – International Units per gram
  • IU/kg – International Units per kilogram of body weight
  • IU/m2 – International Units per square meter of body surface area

The rationale is the same – the IU expresses the biological activity, while the accompanying units describe the quantity or dose form.

Some examples:

  • “This heparin product provides 10,000 IU/g”
  • “The child’s vitamin D3 dose is 400 IU/kg daily”
  • “Enzyme was given at a dose of 5000 IU/m2”

Again, these cannot be directly converted to mL without knowing the specific concentration.

Special Considerations for Insulin IU and mL

One of the most common uses of the IU is for quantifying insulin. However, there are some special considerations for insulin IU/mL conversions:

  • Most insulin products are 100 IU/mL, but concentrations can vary.
  • IU measures insulin units, a unique activity unit just for insulin.
  • Insulin syringes are marked in insulin units, not IUs.
  • U-100 insulin = 100 units of insulin/mL. But beware of U-40, U-500 insulins too.
  • Dose is based on body needs, not a fixed IU or mL amount.

So for insulin, be sure to know the specific concentration (U-100, etc), and that syringes will be marked in insulin units, not IUs or mLs.


In summary, International Units and milliliters are two different types of units used for quantifying substances like vitamins, hormones, and medications. IUs measure biological activity, whereas mLs measure liquid volume. There is no direct conversion between them since an IU is a unit of potency and effect, while the mL simply represents physical volume.

However, the IU and mL amounts can be related using the concentration of a given drug or compound. Knowing the standard concentrations for substances like insulin, heparin, and various vitamins can facilitate converting between IUs and milliliters in appropriate contexts, through mathematical calculations. Overall, being aware of the meaning and uses of each type of unit helps avoid confusion when quantifying medications and compounds.

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