It’s been a few weeks since I last shared an update on my mom’s condition following her Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Now that we know what’s going on, we are laser focused on solutions. We have some great physicians helping with advice, and she is on newer medications. We’re also better at picking up subtle signs and clues around lifestyle changes. For example, mom seems to thrive after daily exercise.
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As I’ve discussed throughout Season 11 of The Dr. Oz Show, the power that one person holds is immense. Early intervention is key to Alzheimer’s prevention and slowing down its progress. What’s my power of one? I’m interested in making my mom’s life easier. That means I’m leaving no stone unturned when it comes to treatment. That’s why research on nasal spray piqued my interest – it may be able to help patients in the early stages of the disease. Here’s what you need to know about it.
The nasal spray news comes from a 2018 study published in the Journal of Neurology that took a look at intranasal insulin – that is, absorbing insulin through the nose – to see its effects on patients with Alzheimer’s or some other form of “mild cognitive impairment.” The researchers reviewed seven different studies that had looked at the nasal spray to determine its overarching effectiveness, if any. Overall, they found that intranasal insulin improved memory – specifically verbal memory like recalling stories – in patients, especially in those with a specific genetic makeup. There is a gene, APOE4, that actually increases your risk of Alzheimer's and is found in roughly a quarter of the population. This study found that patients who had the Alzheimer’s ApoE4 gene either stayed the same or declined, whereas those without the gene saw noticeable improvements.
But not all hope should be lost for those with the ApoE4 gene. One of the studies included in this review was one from 2015 that was published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. This test used a dose of long-acting man-made insulin, called detemir, that was delivered deep into the nasal cavities via a spray. The inhalation was so deep, that the hormone can reach the brain and resulted in a significant improvement in memory skills in participating individuals, according to the Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation.
How did researchers reach this conclusion? Sixty men and women participated in the study, conducted at the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. One group received a higher dose (40 IUs) of insulin nasal spray each day for 21 days; a second group received a lower dose of insulin nasal spray (20 IUs); a third group received a placebo spray.
After three weeks of treatment and repeated testing, those individuals receiving the highest dose of insulin spray showed greater improvements in their memory skills than those groups getting the lower dosage or the placebo spray. And patients who received the highest dose of insulin and who also carried the ApoE4 gene (which indicates an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s) saw the biggest gains. This was an especially notable takeaway, as this group has previously proven resistant to other therapies.
Dr. Richard Isaacson, director of the Alzheimer's Prevention Clinic at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell, and Alzheimer’s expert Max Lugavere came on the show this week to explain why the insulin spray seems to work. Alzheimer’s disease is beginning to be referred to as type 3 diabetes – “a form of diabetes of the brain,” explains Lugavere. This is because when your body doesn’t properly secrete insulin, it causes inflammation in the body. And that inflammation can increase amyloid in the brain, which can build into a plaque and cause the brain to deteriorate and develop Alzheimer’s. “So if we inhale a very specific type of insulin to fight that amyloid and reduce that inflammation, we can protect against Alzheimer’s disease,” says Dr. Isaacson.
Of course, these studies are preliminary; there is currently not an insulin nasal spray on the market. But the promise of the research is a bright spot of hope for Alzheimer’s patients, their families, and their caregivers searching for effective treatments. It’s also crucial to state that this insulin nasal spray is not the same as injectable insulin used for diabetes. It is not recommended for a patient to inhale insulin without the device needed to properly dispense the insulin, which is currently only available to researchers, and not to the general public. It is important to follow your doctor’s advice and stick strictly to the therapies and treatment regimen he or she prescribes.
I urge you all to do your best to maintain a healthy lifestyle and diet in order to keep your brain functioning at its best. You should also keep an eye out for the telltale warning signs of Alzheimer’s, like problems with simple words, or challenges in planning. Don’t hesitate to seek out guidance as well as helpful resources and services, like those available from the Alzheimer’s Association. Throughout Season 11, I’ll be sharing Alzheimer’s news and updates, so we can continue on this journey together.