What Does Insulin Have to Do with Alzheimer’s?

insulin and alzheimerLong used as treatment for diabetes, insulin has shown to produce positive effects with regard to memory loss and overall brain function, while now being considered a possible remedy for the impacts of Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia in the world. It impacts memory and cognition, often resulting in with difficulty in recalling past experiences, relationships, surroundings, language and a number of other seemingly inherent memories.

According to a number of studies, as a person ages their sensitivity to insulin is likely to drop. This means a slowdown in the body’s ability to metabolize sugar and replenish energy stores as glycogen. For diabetics, this results in spikes and valleys in natural insulin levels, requiring additional medication. What researches have recently found, however, is that reduced insulin sensitivity can also impact the brain. Memory and language are affected, while there has also been research to suggest that insulin can fight Alzheimer’s.

New research from Uppsala University showed that when insulin reaches the brain it enhances memory function in humans, and as we age and our metabolism slows, the ability to process insulin slows as well. According to the study, this can result in the slowdown of brain function with regard to memory and language.

The study examined if insulin activity was tied to brain health by looking at its impact on 311 75 year-old men and women. The results showed that subjects with high insulin sensitivity had larger brains and exhibited more capable memory and language skills. The brain structure of the participants was measured using magnetic imaging technology and the language skills tested verbal fluency by asking subjects to name as many animals as possible over the span of one minute.

Even though these results are based on a small study group, it is not the first time insulin has been linked to brain function, memory strength or Alzheimer’s.

In September of 2011 a study was released to show that patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s showed improvements in memory while using an insulin spray. This study was conducted by the University of Washington and also looked at a small focus group of only 104 subjects. Alzheimer’s experts, however, are excited by the results and say it is something to build off.

The insulin spray was administered through the nasal passage, mush like the cold treatment product, Dristan. What experts found so encouraging was that there are very few effective treatments that make positive strides against memory loss and the onset of Alzheimer’s.

Researchers say memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s is caused by an accumulation of proteins, known as ADDL’s, binding onto synapses. The accumulation of these proteins impacts brain function by limiting the neuron passage through these synapses. Essentially, the messages the brain should by receiving get clogged by the proteins that have bound to the synapse. Insulin has been shown to help protect the brain synapses and from accumulating, thus limiting memory loss and further damage to the brain caused by Alzheimer’s.

A 2009 study conducted by researchers at Northwestern University in Illinois and the Universidade Federale do Rio de Janeiro in Brazil found that insulin drugs used to treat diabetes can prevent memory loss. Their work showed that Alzheimer’s patients responded well to tests monitoring memory loss using the diabetes drug called Rosiglitazone. The drug was able to block the proteins from accumulating, thus improving memory loss and in turn, lessening the impact of Alzheimer’s.

Researchers agree that insulin’s impact on Alzheimer’s, memory loss and other forms of brain damages require further investigation, but these examples offer a strong foundation for future advancements.