It’s a simple spread and the mainstay in many a lunchbox, but peanut butter may help in the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. According to one study, a dollop of peanut butter and a ruler can detect the early-stage changes in smell linked to the disease.
Jennifer Stamps, a graduate student with the University of Florida, came up with the idea for the test while working with at the university with Dr. Kenneth Heilman.
The olfactory cortex, or the part of the brain used to process smells, is often one of the first areas of the brain affected by cognitive decline. Stamps thought that by testing a person’s sense of smell, one might find a simple way to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease. Since peanut butter is a complex odorant, meaning it is only detected by the olfactory nerve, it seemed a good scent to use for the study.
Stamps and her colleagues put the equivalent of a tablespoon of peanut butter 30 centimeters from each nostril of the test subject. They moved the container closer and closer to the nostril until the subject could detect the smell of peanut butter. The test subjects who already had a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease did not detect the peanut butter in the left nostril until an average of 10 centimeters closer to the nose than the right nostril. Only the patients with Alzheimer’s disease showed the marked difference in the smell between their right and left nostrils. Some patients with mild cognitive impairment, which could later become Alzheimer’s disease, did show some milder differences between the left and right nostrils.
Although this study provides a link between smell and Alzheimer’s disease, it is not yet a way to diagnose the disease. Further study is needed to prove such a strong link. For now, this peanut butter experiment does give hope that the olfactory nerve is a possible key to early diagnosis.
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