At present, some 5.4 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association’s 2011 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures.1
By 2050, this is expected to jump to 16 million, and in the next 20 years it is projected that Alzheimer’s will affect one in four Americans, rivaling the current prevalence of obesity and diabetes.
Since treatments are few and rarely effective, early diagnosis and prevention become all the more important.
Interestingly, simple tools like a table spoon of peanut butter and a ruler could potentially be used to confirm a diagnosis of the disease in its early stages. As reported by Medical News Today:2
“Jennifer Stamps, a graduate student in the University of Florida (UF) McKnight Brain Institute Center for Smell and Taste, and her colleagues reported the findings of a small pilot study in the Journal of the Neurological Sciences.3
Stamps came up with the idea of using peanut butter to test for smell sensitivity while she was working with Dr. Kenneth Heilman, one of the world’s best known behavioral neurologists, from the UF College of Medicine’s department of neurology.
… The ability to smell is associated with the first cranial nerve and is often one of the first things to be affected in cognitive decline… She thought of peanut butter because, she said, it is a “pure odorant” that is only detected by the olfactory nerve and is easy to access.”
The pilot study tested the smell of 24 patients diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment. To perform the test, the patient was asked to close their eyes and mouth, and hold one nostril closed while breathing normally through the other.
Using a ruler, the clinician measured the distance between the open nostril and the peanut butter, marking the distance at which the patient was able to detect the distinct odor. After a 90 second delay, the procedure was repeated with the other nostril.
They discovered that those diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer’s (which was done through other clinical testing) experienced a significant difference in their ability to detect the odor between the two nostrils. According to the featured report:
“[T]he left nostril was impaired and did not detect the smell until it was an average of 10 cm closer to the nose than the right nostril had made the detection in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
This was not the case in patients with other kinds of dementia; instead, these patients had either no differences in odor detection between nostrils or the right nostril was worse at detecting odor than the left one.”
Of course, it’s too early to tell whether this test might be reliable enough to become widely used. More research needs to be done. But according to Stamps, the test can be used to confirm a diagnosis. The team is planning to study patients with mild cognitive impairment next, to assess whether it might help predict a future diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.
I cook with it frequently.