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Drug May Slow Memory Loss in Early Alzheimer's

Medication Approved to Treat Patients With HIV May Do Double Duty for Dementia

How Egrifta Works continued...

Insulin is probably best known for its role in regulating blood sugar, but it also has important work in the brain. In the brain, insulin stimulates the growth of new nerves and protects existing nerves from damage. Insulin levels in the brain fall with age, and previous studies have found that they're especially low in the brains of patients with Alzheimer's and other kinds of dementia.

The same group of researchers involved in the study has been testing whether inhaled insulin can reverse memory loss in Alzheimer's patients.

Egrifta may boost insulin in the brain less directly, and that could be a good thing, Baker says.

"What's so nice about this particular strategy is that it stimulates a whole cascade of hormone activities. Once this whole cascade is stimulated, it behaves normally, as it does when we're younger adults. So all we're kind of doing is boosting the system and letting it do what it does best," she says.

"It also shuts itself off when levels of one hormone or another get too high," Baker tells WebMD, so the levels always stay within a more normal range.

Risk, Side Effects, and Cost to Be Considered

Should a larger, longer study confirm the benefits of the medication for patients with early memory loss, it wouldn't come cheap.

Baker says that given at the dosages used in the study, the drug costs about $750 a day, or more than $22,500 for a 30-day supply.

"Of course that's not feasible," she says. "No health plan would ever pay for this."

She says drug companies are hard at work trying to find a way to make a less expensive version.

Side effects were reported by 68% of people on Egrifta -- twice the rate of adverse events experienced by those on the placebo injections. Side effects were mostly mild. They included skin reactions like itching, redness, and stinging around the injection site. It was also common for people to report increased joint pain and stomach upset.

There are already products at vitamin and health foods stores that claim to boost growth-hormone-releasing hormone, but Baker cautions that they could do so dangerously.

But, she says, there is a far less expensive and less risky way to get virtually the same degree of benefit as was seen with this pricey drug: Exercise.

"We completed a study last year testing exercise for brain function in people with mild cognitive impairment," Baker says. "We had the same improvements in executive function. We used the same tests in both studies, and we saw the same benefits."

How much exercise is needed to get the benefit? In her previous study, which was published in 2010 in the Archives of Neurology, people engaged in aerobic exercise for 45 to 60 minutes at least four days of the week for six months.

"Up to this point, this is the most potent way to slow things down or improve cognition," she says.

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