Because the scientific community is constantly plagued with trying to solve some of the world’s most complicated questions, it’s always nice whenever a shortcut is developed to help everyone out, from cancer-identifying scalpels to biomarkers predicting suicide risk. There are still a lot of unknowns when it comes to the treatment and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease, but according to University of Florida Health researchers, detecting the harrowing ailment may be a lot easier, and tastier, than anyone could have expected. All it takes is a ruler and some peanut butter.
A graduate student from the UF McKnight Brain Institute Center for Smell and Taste, Jennifer Stamps and her colleagues recently published a study in the Journal of Neurological Sciences that seems to prove that smell sensitivity is a powerful indicator of the possibility that someone may have Alzheimer’s. If they want to eat the peanut butter after smelling it, it means they should let me have some.
The sense of smell is connected to the first cranial nerve, and it’s one of the first things affected by the disease. Stamps noticed while working with Dr. Kenneth Heilman, the James E. Rooks distinguished professor of neurology and health psychology at the UF College of Medicine’s department of neurology, that his patients’ sense of smell wasn’t tested, and she decided to run her own experiments. And because peanut butter is a pure odorant, which is only detected by the olfactory nerve and not the trigeminal nerve, it seems perfectly suited for the job.
In the study, patients were sat down with their eyes closed and one nostril closed. The clinician would take a dish of peanut butter and raise it up one centimeter at a time until the subject could smell it, and then the nostrils were reversed. It was found that those in the early stages of Alzheimer’s would generally have a better sense of smell in their right nostril, and their left nostril would not detect the peanut butter until it was an average of 10 centimeters higher on that side. Conversely, this happened to none of the control group, or for those who had cognitive problems that weren’t related to Alzheimer’s. Of the 24 people tested who had mild cognitive impairment, about 10 patients had problems in their left nostril, while the rest didn’t. They didn’t know at the time what the actual diagnoses were, and had to wait weeks after the tests for confirmation.
“At the moment, we can use this test to confirm diagnosis,” Stamps said. “But we plan to study patients with mild cognitive impairment to see if this test might be used to predict which patients are going to get Alzheimer’s disease.” If nothing else, it’s a good way for people to check who have no way of paying for the often expensive testing procedures currently in use.
But don’t go blaming a stuffy nose on Alzheimer’s, and make sure you seek professional help should you make any self-realizations. Check out the UF video below to see the test in action, and I’ll go and make us some sandwiches.