I recently heard about a nose spray containing insulin as a possible future treatment for Alzheimer's disease. How does it work and is there an Alzheimer's nose spray available?

Answer From Jonathan Graff-Radford, M.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 significantly 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.

Early research suggested that when taken as a nose spray, insulin could possibly improve memory and help preserve cognitive function in people with early Alzheimer's disease or mild cognitive impairment.

However, study results have been mixed. Some recent trials showed negative results. A large, well-designed study investigating the impact of nasal insulin on people with mild cognitive impairment or mild Alzheimer's disease found no benefits from the drug. But others found that nasal insulin may improve some aspects of memory and daily activity.

While optimism for insulin has been dampened, researchers are still trying to understand if and how insulin might be used to manage Alzheimer's disease and other dementias.


Jonathan Graff-Radford, M.D.

June 29, 2021 See more Expert Answers

See also

  1. Alzheimer's sleep problems
  2. Alzheimer's: New treatments
  3. Alzheimer's 101
  4. Alzheimer's and daily tasks
  5. Understanding the difference between dementia types
  6. Alzheimer's disease
  7. Alzheimer's disease: Can exercise prevent memory loss?
  8. Alzheimer's drugs
  9. Alzheimer's genes
  10. Alzheimer's prevention: Does it exist?
  11. Alzheimer's stages
  12. Alzheimer's and holidays
  13. Antidepressant withdrawal: Is there such a thing?
  14. Antidepressants and alcohol: What's the concern?
  15. Antidepressants and weight gain: What causes it?
  16. Antidepressants: Can they stop working?
  17. Antidepressants: Side effects
  18. Antidepressants: Selecting one that's right for you
  19. Antidepressants: Which cause the fewest sexual side effects?
  20. Anxiety disorders
  21. Atypical antidepressants
  22. Can music help someone with Alzheimer's?
  23. Caregiver stress
  24. Clinical depression: What does that mean?
  25. Corticobasal degeneration (corticobasal syndrome)
  26. CT scan
  27. Depression and anxiety: Can I have both?
  28. Depression, anxiety and exercise
  29. Depression: Diagnosis is key
  30. Depression in women: Understanding the gender gap
  31. Depression (major depressive disorder)
  32. Depression: Provide support, encouragement
  33. Depression: Supporting a family member or friend
  34. Diagnosing Alzheimer's
  35. Home safety tips for Alzheimer's caregivers
  36. Intermittent fasting
  37. Is the definition of Alzheimer's disease changing?
  38. Male depression: Understanding the issues
  39. MAOIs and diet: Is it necessary to restrict tyramine?
  40. Marijuana and depression
  41. Mayo Clinic Minute: 3 tips to reduce your risk of Alzheimer's disease
  42. Mayo Clinic Minute: Alzheimer's disease risk and lifestyle
  43. Mayo Clinic Minute New definition of Alzheimer's changes
  44. Mayo Clinic Minute: Women and Alzheimer's Disease
  45. Mediterranean diet recipes
  46. Memory loss: When to seek help
  47. Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
  48. MRI
  49. Natural remedies for depression: Are they effective?
  50. Nervous breakdown: What does it mean?
  51. New Alzheimers Research
  52. Pain and depression: Is there a link?
  53. Pet therapy
  54. Phantosmia: What causes olfactory hallucinations?
  55. Positron emission tomography scan
  56. Posterior cortical atrophy
  57. Seeing inside the heart with MRI
  58. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  59. Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
  60. Sharing Alzheimer's diagnosis
  61. Brain anatomy
  62. Sundowning: Late-day confusion
  63. Treatment-resistant depression
  64. Tricyclic antidepressants and tetracyclic antidepressants
  65. Video: Alzheimer's drug shows early promise
  66. MRI
  67. Vitamin B-12 and depression
  68. Young-onset Alzheimer's