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Inhaled Insulin for Alzheimer’s: Some Researchers Hopeful

Ryan McVay/Thinkstock(SEATTLE) -- Insulin inhaled through the nose is among the latest research to create buzz around Alzheimer’s treatment.

Researchers from the Veterans Affairs Puget Sound Health Care System in Seattle found that patients who received an insulin nasal spray experienced improved memory when compared to those who did not receive the spray treatment. Alzheimer’s patients in the study also showed better overall daily function.

“This is really exciting news,” ABC News chief health and medical editor Dr. Richard Besser said on Good Morning America. “It’s been known for a long time that people who have type 2 diabetes are at increased risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease, so the question is: Could insulin, which is used to treat diabetes, play a role in Alzheimer’s disease?”

Insulin plays an important role in regulating blood sugar and cell repair.

“We know that insulin has a role in terms of providing energy to the brain, but it also [works] as a brain growth factor in a way, helping nerves work together,” said Besser. “So, they tried this and they found…patients treated with a low dose of insulin had a decline in their loss of function and a slight improvement in their short-term memory.”

But experts warn that the study, published in the journal Neurology, was small -- only 104 total patients -- and it is too soon to say whether the treatment is safe and effective. The study lasted four months, which researchers noted was way too soon to allow for any concrete proof of efficacy.

To make these findings more than just hopeful, researchers plan to carry out larger and longer studies, scheduled to begin next summer.

In the meantime, hit the gym.  It may keep your brain healthy.

“Every time you exercise, your insulin levels go up,” Besser told GMA. “So, there’s no reason to not go out and get a little more exercise, but it’s too soon to be treating [Alzheimer's] with insulin.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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