How Peanut Butter Can Help Diagnose Alzheimer Disease?
Over five million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, a leading cause of memory loss and cognitive decline. Alzheimer’s remains a frustrating mystery in many ways, as researchers struggle to understand how it begins and search for simple ways to diagnose it. One surprisingly simple new diagnostic tool may be a simple jar of peanut butter.
Alzheimer’s disease is one of several types of dementia, a condition in which the brain’s ability to remember, process information and make decisions gradually becomes severely compromised. The early signs of Alzheimer’s can be subtle, and easily missed, and a diagnosis is usually made only after the disease has progressed to the point of real impairment. The causes of Alzheimer’s are still being investigated, but the disease appears rooted in the formation of amyloid plaque in the brain. As plaque develops, it blocks he brain’s ability to make neural connections.
If Alzheimer’s is diagnosed relatively early, treatments ranging from medication to behavioral therapy can help to slow its progress. But diagnostic tools that can definitively identify Alzheimer’s are limited. A series of recent studies focusing on links between the sense of smell and cognitive functioning may provide a new and very easy way to diagnose Alzheimer’s and track the progress of the disease once it’s diagnosed.
In over 30 studies on the link between the olfactory response and cognitive functioning, researchers found an association between a person’s inability to smell odors such as peanut butter, fish and lavender and their risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease. Typical studies involved tools as simple as a ruler and a sample of selected odors.
Subjects were tested with various smells held at a ruler’s length from their nostrils. The sample scents were moved closer to the subjects’ noses until they were able to smell them and the distance by ruler was logged. Subjects were them retested at intervals to track changes in the point at which they were able to smell various odors. Tests of this kind revealed that as the sense of smell declined, the likelihood of cognitive impairment increased.
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The connection between Alzheimer’s disease and declining olfactory ability may have to do with myeloid plaque, long thought to be the main cause of Alzheimer’s. As plaque builds up in the brain, it may affect the functioning of the olfactory nerve and other parts to the brain responsible for processing the sensory data of smells.
But although studies on the link between smelling and Alzheimer’s suggest that all it takes is a jar of peanut butter that anyone can use to diagnose the disease, some experts point out that these studies only show an association, not a cause and effect relationship between smell and Alzheimer’s, and that a decline in the ability to smell can be caused by many other factors such as chronic respiratory problems, nose and throat issues, or simply age.
While the research may be promising, it may be too early to assume that smell tests can definitively diagnose Alzheimer’s – and this test doesn’t seem to work at all to diagnose other kinds of cognitive impairment. As new research continues to explore the connection between smell and memory, the family jar of peanut butter may turn out to be a powerful tool for diagnosing and treating victims of Alzheimer’s disease.