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