Peanut butter, along with a ruler, according to health researchers at the University of Florida, can be a reliable test to detect the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
The research findings of grad student Jennifer Stamps and her fellow researchers at the UF McKnight Brain Institute Center for Smell and Taste have been published in the Journal of Neurological Sciences.
According to Stamps, she thought up the idea to test a person’s sensitivity to the aroma of peanut butter while she was collaborating with Dr. Kenneth Heilman, who is a professor of health psychology and neurology at the University of Florida.
While following Heilman at his clinic, Stamps noticed that no tests were being performed on Alzheimer patients’ senses of smell, though the sense of smell is closely related to the proper functioning of the first cranial nerve. In people experiencing a decline in cognition, the sense of smell is often one of the first things to go.
Dr. Heilman made Stamps an offer that she couldn’t refuse. He told her that if she was able to “come up with something quick and inexpensive” that they could do it.
A “pure odorant” is how Stamps thinks of peanut butter. It’s easily detected by the sense of smell, and it is also easily available and relatively inexpensive.
The study that was published involved having patients who came to the clinic, sitting down with a clinician, a metric ruler, and about a tablespoon of peanut butter.
Each patient was asked to close both his/her mouth and eyes, and then, block one nostril. Next, the clinician would open up the container of peanut butter. Then, with the ruler placed next to the patient’s open nostril while he/she breathed normally, the clinician would slowly move the container of peanut butter up the ruler one centimeter at a time whenever the patient exhaled, until the patient said that he/she smelled the peanut butter. After a delay of 90 seconds, the whole thing would be repeated using the other nostril.
The actual diagnosis of which patient was found to have Alzheimer’s was not known to the clinicians, and wasn’t confirmed for several weeks after the initial screening.
The differences between the left and right nostril’s ability to detect the odor of peanut butter was pronounced. The left nostril couldn’t detect the aroma of peanut butter until it was approximately 10 centimeters closer than the odor could be detected by the right one.
In other types of dementia, this was not the case. In those types, eihter both nostrils detected the odor fine, or the right one was worse at smelling the peanut butter.
According to Stamps, the test can be used as a method to confirm the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. Next, she says that they have plans “to predict which patients are going to get Alzheimer’s disease.”
This relatively inexpensive test can be used by clinics that are smaller and don’t have access to run a series of more expensive and elaborate tests. The peanut butter test will now be used by the University of Florida, along with their other clinical tests.
The frontal part of the temporal lobe is often one of the first places to deteriorate due to Alzheimer’s disease. This part of the brain is also associated with forming new memories.
Peanut butter — it’s great in sandwiches, in cookies, and goes well with jelly. Also, it has recently been shown in studies to be a potential benefit in detecting the early onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
Written by: Douglas Cobb