Insulin nasal spray may boost memory in obese teens

Insulin nasal spray may boost memory in obese teens by improving connectivity between brain regions, study finds

  • Researchers gave one group of teens with high BMIs an insulin nasal spray and another group a placebo nasal spray
  • The insulin group performed better on memory tests and had improved connectivity between areas of the brain that play a role in working memory 
  • Recent studies have shown that when the brain becomes resistant to insulin, this could lead to an increased risk of dementia 

Insulin nasal spray may improve cognitive function in obese and prediabetic teenagers, new research finds.

Typically, the hormone is used to regulate blood sugar and metabolism in those who have diabetes.

But scientists found that inhaled insulin reaches the brain directly, boosting memory and improving connectivity between regions of the brain associated with cognitive performance.

The team, from the Yale School of Medicine in Connecticut, says the findings are preliminary, but suggest that not only does obesity lead to poor memory but also that insulin can reverse it.

Preliminary findings from Yale School of Medicine found that teenagers with high BMIs performed better on memory tasks after inhaling insulin than their peers who inhaled a placebo (file image)

Previous studies have shown that insulin travels directly to brain, where it can influence regions that play a role in memory and appetite.

In people who have type 2 diabetes, the body becomes resistant to the insulin it produces naturally.

But when the brain becomes resistant to insulin, memory declines, which could lead to an increased risk of dementia. 

Scientists are not yet sure how dementia and diabetes are connected, but what is known is that diabetes increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, which damages blood vessels and causes inflammation.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, damaged blood vessels and inflammation can contribute to the age-related brain disease.


At the same conference, a new study found that exercise can improve brain function.  

Researchers from the University of Tübingen in Germany recruited 22 overweight and obese adults.

The participants underwent brain scans before and after undergoing an eight-week exercise regimen.

They also used a nasal spray to combat insulin resistance in the brain.   

After eight weeks, weight loss was ‘marginal’ but scans showed that blood flow improve in regions of the brain that play a role in control and reward processes. 

Additionally, the greater brain function boost a participant had, the more belly fat they lost. 

The adults also reported improvements in their mood.

This led the researchers to study the possible association between brain insulin sensitivity and memory in obese teens.

The team recruited adolescents with high BMIs and gave one group intranasal insulin and the other group a placebo.

They found that group that inhaled insulin performed better on a memory task than the placebo group.

Additionally, brain scans showed that connectivity was boosted between the left and right dorsolateral prefrontal cortices.

These are areas of the brain that play roles in working memory, reasoning and cognitive flexibility, which is the ability to switch between thinking about two different concepts. 

‘While data collection is ongoing, the preliminary cross-sectional findings suggest that not only is obesity associated with poorer memory, but that this impairment can be reversed by intranasal insulin,’ the authors write.

In continuing the study, the researchers plan to look at whether levels of body fat play a role in cognitive function. 

The preliminary findings will be presented this week at the annual meeting for the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior in Utrecht, Netherlands. 

It comes on the heels of news that recruitment for a clinical trial is underway in Minnesota to study whether intranasal insulin can improve memory in Alzheimer’s patients, reported WCCO.