Monday, October 14, 2013

Take a Whiff of Jif to Test for Alzheimer’s

After hearing about the expensive tests for Alzheimer’s, researchers came up with a cheap screening test. The really amazing thing about this test is you may already have the necessary item in your pantry—a jar of peanut butter.

Known as the brief olfactory test, taking a whiff of Jif, or any peanut butter for that matter, can help a researcher determine if you have Alzheimer’s. Anyway, that was the news out of the University of Florida.

It’s commonly known that Alzheimer’s affects the sense of smell. Other studies have been done on the olfactory system and Alzheimer’s disease. This is not the first! According to a 1989 study published in the International Journal of Neuroscience, researchers believed that the changes occurring in Alzheimer’s starts in the cortical region of the brain, the region that controls our sense of smell. In 2010, the Alzheimer’s Association and the National Institutes of health funded a study that showed that Alzheimer’s mice could not distinguish odors as well as other mice. At that time, the researchers noted that an olfactory test could be an inexpensive way to diagnose Alzheimer’s.

Fast forward to 2013 and we have the peanut butter whiff test. Jennifer Stamps, a graduate student at the University of Florida’s McKnight Brain Institute, conducted the test on ninety people. Some of the people had Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia and others had mild congnitive impairment (MCI). Although researchers did not know which people had which problem when they conducted the tests, they were surprised to find that the Alzheimer’s patients reacted to the sniff test differently than the other groups.

Here’s how the test was conducted: A tablespoon of peanut butter was put on a metric ruler and one nostril was checked at a time. Eighteen of the study group had early-stage Alzheimer’s, and they all had one thing in common—trouble smelling the peanut butter out of their left nostril. The group with other types of dementia did not have this problem. The results of the twenty-four people with MCI was mixed—ten had trouble with the left nostril but fourteen didn’t. Is this an indication that the ten will go on to develop Alzheimer’s disease? Time will tell.

Other researchers urge caution due to the small number of cases included in this study. Others note that head trauma, sinus problems, or congestion can affect the results of an olfactory test. In fact, my friend Donna can’t smell anything after an accident that happened when she was a teenager.

So, are you tempted to grab a jar of peanut butter and sniff away? Being the curious person I am and having seen the devastating effects of dementia, I did exactly that. Right nostril, a-okay! One down, one to go. Second nostril—nothing, nada, zip, zero. Oh, I did not like this test. Not one little bit.

Time to analyze the test results. Let’s see. Left nostril. Come to think of it, I just came off a ten day supply of antibiotics for a left ear infection. So I’m sure that could have affected my sense of smell in my left nostril. Anyway that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. The peanut butter test should come with a disclaimer: Don’t try this at home.

Copyright (c) October 2013 by L.S. Fisher  

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