October 14, 2013
Cheap And Easy ‘Peanut Butter Test’ For Alzheimer’s
I’ll be honest. I was reading an article about bourbon when I came across this piece, which might in the long run turn out to be very much more useful and important to me, and to any of us. It’s also an interesting pointer on novel ways of taking care of our health. Apparently, sniffing peanut butter can help in detecting early signs of Alzheimer’s.
It is well known that taste and smell can be affected by conditions relating to the brain, so it should stand to reason that if we notice any strangeness in the way our senses are behaving then it could be a warning sign (without indulging in paranoia too much – the local restaurant might just have adapted their ingredients or changed their supplier or something). We could even put our senses to the test by giving them a little check-up without having to leave the kitchen. Obviously, a visit to the doctors is always better, but for those of us who are reluctant to go to the doctors, especially only with concerns about problems we ‘might’ have, testing ourselves regularly at home is an important part of healthcare.
A project led by Jennifer Stamps at the University of Florida came up with the idea of using peanut butter after Stamps realized that not enough attention was being paid to smell in testing for Alzheimer’s and other conditions related to cognitive decline. She began asking patients in the clinic she was shadowing in if they would mind smelling some peanut butter while they were there, testing how well they could smell a tablespoon of peanut butter at different distances from their nose, one nostril at a time.
By far the most significant factor in patients who went on to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s was that they had serious impairment in smelling with their left nostril. The right was much more able to smell efficiently, so much so that a distance of 10cm was the difference between when the right and left nostrils could detect the peanut butter odor. Patients with no cognitive problems, as well as patients with different ones such as dementia, displayed no similar symptoms. Because the phenomenon seems to be specific to Alzheimer’s, it could be an extremely useful thing to know.
Jennifer Stamps says that more research is needed before this method enters the medical mainstream, but it could be very important in terms of how early it can detect problems, because other forms of detection take longer. Of course, the lack of complication and cost involved are significant factors too.
So, why use peanut butter? Smell has two elements to it: the olfactory sense, which is smell itself, and the trigeminal sense, which is the burning/tingling/stinging sense that comes when smelling something. Peanut butter, although having a strong olfactory output, triggers little or no trigeminal reaction; it allows for a pure smell test – which is what is best for the Alzheimer’s examination.
Image Credit: Thinkstock