Peanut butter is more than just a delicious sandwich spread—researchers are using the staple condiment to detect early signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
Forgetfulness is something that happens to all of us once in a while, you might forget to pack your lunch, or to say happy birthday to your mum; but Alzheimer’s disease, which usually affects older people, is different to everyday forgetting. It alters the brain permanently and can make you forget even simple tasks, such as tying your shoes or how to eat with a spoon.
Although there is not a cure for the disease, there are medicines that can slow down its progression. This is why early diagnosis—finding out if you have the disease as soon as possible—is so important.
Researchers at the University of Florida’s McKnight Brain Institute Centre for Smell and Taste believe that peanut butter will help diagnose early-stage Alzheimer’s because it is a pure odourant, meaning that its scent is only detected by the olfactory nerve—plus you can buy it in your nearest convenience shop.
“If we can catch it at that earlier stage, we can start treatment more aggressively at that earlier stage, and you can prevent a lot of the progression,” the lead researcher, Jennifer Stamps explained in a video.
Alzheimer’s affects the front of the brain’s temporal lobe—the part responsible for short-term memory and sense of smell, among other things. Trying to measure forgetfulness would be extremely difficult, but smell is a little more straight forward. The researchers asked test subjects to close their eyes and mouth and block one nostril. The researchers held a tablespoon of peanut butter and held a ruler next to the person’s open nostril. They then moved the peanut butter up the ruler one centimetre at a time until the person could smell the nutty aroma. This measurement was then recorded, and the procedure repeated on the other nostril.
The researchers found that people who had early stage Alzheimer’s had a dramatic difference between the right and the left nostril. The left nostril—which is linked to the left side of the brain—was not able to detect the smell of the peanut butter until it was much closer to them, around 10 centimetres away compared to 20 centimetres with the right nostril. This suggests that there has already been some decline in the left hemisphere of the brain.
The procedure is so far only being used to confirm diagnosis of the disease, however it shows that testing the sense of smell may be a promising road for future diagnostic tests. This would be useful, as current tests to confirm that someone has Alzheimer’s can be time consuming, costly, and many hospitals may not have the equipment needed. It would be much easier for a doctor to pop down to the local shops to buy a jar of peanut butter than to spend lots of money on expensive medical equipment!
Source [Science Daily]