I recently heard about a new Alzheimer's treatment, a nose spray containing insulin. How does it work and is there an Alzheimer's nose spray available?

Answers from Glenn Smith, Ph.D.

Insulin — a hormone that helps regulate your blood sugar — appears to play a role in normal memory processes. Insulin irregularities may contribute to cognitive and brain changes associated with Alzheimer's disease.

In the past several years, researchers have been investigating the use of insulin to treat Alzheimer's disease. One of the challenges is how to provide insulin in such a way that it improves brain function without disrupting your blood sugar levels. If your blood sugar drops too low, for example, it can create complications, such as confusion, heart palpitations, anxiety and visual disturbances.

Preliminary research suggests that when taken as a nose spray, insulin reaches the brain within a few minutes and improves memory. However, this research involved small groups of participants who had either early Alzheimer's disease or mild cognitive impairment. Although this research is promising, more research on the safety and effectiveness of intranasal insulin therapy for Alzheimer's disease is necessary.

Few, if any, health care providers are prescribing off-label insulin nasal spray in routine clinical practice.

Feb. 06, 2014 See more Expert Answers