Alzheimer’s Symptoms Aided by Nasal Spray

November 12, 2012


A small scale study, carried out by researchers from the Veterans Affairs Puget Sound Health Care System and the University of Washington School of Medicine, and supported by the U.S. National Institutes of Health has found that insulin treatment may help the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. The results from the four month study have been published online in the Archives of Neurology.

Dementia in the elderly is a growing problem as the elderly population grows and Alzheimer’s is the most frequently diagnosed form of dementia found in old people. Initially Alzheimer’s disease can cause confusion and difficulty when thinking, memory and mental functioning then deteriorates. Impaired function of the brain due to insulin related issues are thought to be responsible for the decline in cognitive thinking.

The report has suggested that in the future a nasal insulin spray may relieve some of the symptoms of early Alzheimer’s disease by reinforcing the naturally produced insulin within the body.

Dr. James E. Galvin, professor of neurology and psychiatry and director of the Pearl S. Barlow Center for Memory Evaluation and Treatment at NYU Langone Medical Center points out that it is a small study but says, “the authors provide some of the most convincing evidence to date that insulin treatment may alleviate symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease”. Noting that earlier research has indicated an association between obesity, type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease, Galvin further adds that this study “further supports links between impaired insulin signaling in the brain and cognitive decline”.

During the study the researchers enlisted 104 people. These individuals all had some form of Alzheimer’s disease or amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI) and had mild memory problems because of this. The people were divided into three groups, one group of 30 people received a placebo every day, another group of 36 people were administered 20 international units of insulin daily and the remainder of 38 participants got 40 international units of insulin every day.

The assessment process addressed everyday functioning, thought processes and glucose metabolism in the brain and some other factors.

The results showed that those on the placebo, when taking a standard dementia test, declined in an expected manner but those who had been taking insulin showed no decline compared to those on the placebo.

It was also found that those taking 20 international units of insulin could remember stories and details immediately after and shortly afterwards, yet those on the 40 international units and placebo showed no memory improvement.

All participants who took insulin were recorded as having maintained their function when compared to those who took the placebo. The group taking the placebo continued to decline slowly.

One of the researchers, Suzanne Craft, of the Veterans Affairs Puget Sound Health Care System and the University of Washington School of Medicine explained that, “The results of our pilot trial demonstrate that the administration of intranasal insulin stabilized or improved cognition, function and cerebral glucose metabolism for adults with aMCI or AD [Alzheimer's disease]“.

But the researchers acknowledge the need for further rigorous research to identify if insulin treatment can actually show benefits to patients. They point out that although they are optimistic there is a need for more research to confirm that insulin can be employed as a treatment to control or inhibit the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

The researchers conclude by saying, “Taken together, these results provide an impetus for future clinical trials of intranasal insulin therapy and for further mechanistic studies of insulin’s role in the pathogenesis of AD”.

Other experts in the field say that the insulin therapy may open up other routes of treatment. Dr. Sam Gandy is a professor of neurology and psychiatry and says that, “Although this was considered to be an unconventional approach, the building basic science underpinnings now provide a clear plausible pathway to totally novel therapies for AD”. Additionally he points out that the brain uses insulin in a different manner to other parts of the body, “so this story may be about the brain-specific role of insulin signaling and not necessarily about insulin’s role in glucose uptake”.

He talks of the future and says that clinical trials are already being undertaken to evaluate the use of insulin sensitizers such as ‘metformin’ for Alzheimer’s disease. The new information that this trial and others like it will produce generates optimism that insulin sensitizers may well be beneficial to patients at some time in the future.

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