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As unusual as it sounds, researchers at the University of Florida may have found an inexpensive and noninvasive way to test for the Alzheimer’s disease, and it involves using peanut butter. Alzheimer’s is typically diagnosed through a PET scan or spinal tap which costs patients thousands of dollars, which is why the peanut better smell test is sparking interest.
Sense of Smell linked to Alzheimer’s
The sense of smell is usually the first sense to be affected in Alzheimer’s patients because the disease initially targets the front section of the temporal lobe which is responsible for processing smells. In fact, the ability to smell is affected even before memory loss. According to research, the cognitive shrinkage caused by Alzheimer’s is more evident in the left side of the brain; therefore the sense of smell in the left nostril is considerably worse than that of the right. Researchers at the University of Florida wanted look further into the connection between smell and possible early detection of Alzheimer’s.
The study, published in the Journal of the Neurological Sciences in 2013, tested 94 participants’ ability to detect the smell from certain distances. The team choose peanut better because it is a “pure odorant” and it is easily recognized. Researchers measured the distance at which the participant could smell a tablespoon of peanut butter, one nostril at a time. Researchers did not know the diagnosis of each patient at the time of the tests. Upon reviewing the results, the 18 patients previously diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease were easily identified. They all were found to have an impaired sense of smell out of their left nostril, and on average, the peanut butter had to be brought 10 centimeters closer to the nose for the left nostril than that of the distance needed for the right nostril. Patients with other forms of dementia in the study showed little difference between sense of smell in each nostril or had a better sense of smell in their left nostril than right.
While there is much more research to be done before you break out your jar of peanut butter, scientists are hopeful that this could lead to a more affordable way to diagnose Alzheimer’s in its earliest stages. Alzheimer’s is such a complicated disease, and researchers warn against diagnosing using only a simple test.
“At the moment, we can use this test to confirm diagnosis. 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.”
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