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Sniffing Insulin May Help Memory in Alzheimer's Patients

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New study suggests insulin nasal spray could become treatment for memory loss. CBS/iStockphoto

(CBS) Sniffing insulin seems to help people suffering from Alzheimer's disease and a related condition known as mild cognitive impairment, or MCI.

That's the word from University of Washington researchers, who reported results of a study showing that patients given twice-daily doses of an insulin nasal spray for four months experienced improvements in memory and were better able to manage the tasks of daily living.

The study, presented in Honolulu at a meeting of the Alzheimer's Association, builds upon previous research showing that insulin is needed for proper brain function and that there are abnormally low levels of insulin in the brains of people with Alzheimer's or MCI.

"These deficiencies may reduce or eliminate insulin's beneficial roles in the brain," Dr. Suzanne Craft, of VA Puget Sound Health Care System/University of Washington in Seattle, said in a written statement. "We believe that restoring normal insulin function in the brain may provide therapeutic benefits to adults with Alzheimer's."

The study involved 109 patients with Alzheimer's or MCI. One-third of the patients were given a placebo nasal spray, and the other two-thirds got twice daily doses of a nasal spray containing insulin. The researchers found that the patients who got the insulin showed significant improvements in memory and in the ability to perform tasks of everyday living.

"These results provide encouraging support for further study of intranasal insulin as a therapy for Alzheimer's," Craft said in the statement. But she was quick to say that more research is needed - and that intranasal treatment is far from being ready for prime time.

"At this point it's not recommended that people try this at home," she told reporters at the meeting, according to "That being said, we're very encouraged."

Click here for more on Dr. Craft's research.