Using Peanut Butter And A Ruler To Make A Diagnosis

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(credit: Dr. Dave Hnida)

(credit: Dr. Dave Hnida)

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Written by Dr. Dave Hnida, CBS4 Medical EditorIn today’s world of high-tech medicine, it seems like the more bells, whistles, and glitz a test has, the better it has got to be — and that’s the one we want.

But how about zooming in for a diagnosis with only a dollop of peanut butter, and a common school ruler?

That’s what researchers at the University of Florida used to help make an early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease.

First, the background. When a person develops Alzheimer’s, they first begin to lose brain cells in the frontal lobe — that’s the front part of the brain behind your forehead. That’s also where your sense of smell center is located. Specifically, it’s where the nerves come out to meet your nostrils.

And the area of the frontal lobe that deteriorates first with a disease like Alzheimer’s is where the nerve cells comes out down to the left nostril. It’s unique to Alzheimer’s, and not usually seen in other forms of dementia.

So researchers figured: let’s check the ability to smell in the left nostril as compared to the right — that may help clue us in something is starting to malfunction in the brain.

They used the ability to smell peanut butter in their research. Why peanut butter? It’s one of the few foods that is purely smelled by the nose. Many other foods are detected by taste buds and other cells in and behind the nose and mouth.

Researchers put a spoonful of peanut butter under each nostril (pinching the other nostril closed when testing) and found when there was a 4 inch difference between the left and right nostril to detect the smell, something not so good was most likely happening in the brain.

(Meaning the left nostril didn’t work as well as the right).

Scans and other tests of the people who had at least a 4 inch gap between the function of the left and right nostril suggested early Alzheimer’s.

Now, don’t run to the pantry and start snorting peanut butter to check your brain function. There certainly can be a lot of reasons why one nostril works better than the other, such as colds, allergies, deviated septum, nasal polyps, etc.

Bottom line of this study: high-tech doesn’t always rule. The research, in fact was done by a grad student.

Just don’t be surprised if your doc pulls out some peanut butter during an office visit — it’s probably not for a PB&J sandwich.

Source: Journal Of Neurologic Science

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