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QUICK DIAGNOSIS: Peanut butter may help detect Alzheimer's, scientists say

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
October 13th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

It's delicious with grape jelly - and now may help doctors diagnose Alzheimer's disease. According to the University of Florida, researchers there have discovered that peanut butter may help detect the debilitating, memory-destroying condition.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic online) - In short, the peanut butter may be used to detect an elderly patient's sense of smell, as the capacity to smell is linked with the first cranial nerve. Smell is one of the first things to be impacted in cognitive decline.

While working with Dr. Kenneth Mailman, a professor of neurology and health psychology in the University of Florida College of Medicine's department of neurology, graduate student Jennifer Stamps realized that Alzheimer's patients were not tested for their sense of smell.

"Dr. Heilman said, 'If you can come up with something quick and inexpensive, we can do it,'" Stamps recalled.

Stamps selected peanut butter because it is a "pure odorant" that is only identified by the olfactory nerve.

Using peanut butter, a clinician held a ruler next to a tablespoon and moved the spoon up the ruler until the patient could identify the odor using only one nostril. The same procedure was then performed on the other nostril.

Researchers discovered that patients in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease had a significant dissimilarity in identifying smell between the left and right nostril. For example, the left nostril was unable to identify the smell until it was an average of 10 centimeters closer to the nose than the right nostril had made the identification in patients with Alzheimer's disease.

Twenty-four patients were examined, who all had mild cognitive impairment. Approximately 10 patients demonstrated a left nostril impairment and 14 patients did not. Mild cognitive impairment sometimes indicates Alzheimer's disease.

"At the moment, we can use this test to confirm diagnosis," Stamps said. "But we plan to study patients with mild cognitive impairment to see if this test might be used to predict which patients are going to get Alzheimer's disease."

This could prove to be a boon for doctors who don't have the staff or equipment to conduct more advanced tests.

One of the first places in the brain to be affected in people with Alzheimer's disease is the front part of the temporal lobe that developed from the smell system, and this part of the brain is associated with creating new memories.

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