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October 10, 2013 by MAE CHAN
If You Can't Smell Peanut Butter, It May Be A Sign of Early Alzheimer's Disease - 11 Factors Reduce Risk


A protein linked to Alzheimer's disease kills nerve cells that detect odors and University of Florida Health researchers have found that a simple 'peanut butter' test can help diagnose the disease and one is more tool to add to a full suite of clinical tests for neurological function in patients with memory disorders.



Measuring the brain's metabolism through brain scans known as PET may catch many cases of Alzheimer's disease, even before significant symptoms emerge, but a dollop of peanut butter and a ruler can also be used to confirm a diagnosis of the disease in its early stages.

"Deficits in odor detection and discrimination are among the earliest symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, suggesting that the sense of smell can potentially serve as a 'canary in the coal mine' for early diagnosis of the disease," said Leonardo Belluscio, PhD, of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. "The changes taking place in the olfactory system as a result of Alzheimer's disease may be similar to those in other regions of the brain but appear more rapidly" he added.

Peanut Butter Test

Jennifer Stamps, a graduate student in the 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.

Stamps came up with the idea of using peanut butter to test for smell sensitivity while she was working with Dr. Kenneth Heilman, the James E. Rooks distinguished professor of neurology and health psychology in the UF College of Medicine’s department of neurology.

She noticed while shadowing in Heilman’s clinic that patients were not tested for their sense of smell. 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. Stamps also had been working in the laboratory of Linda Bartoshuk, the William P. Bushnell presidentially endowed professor in the College of Dentistry’s department of community dentistry and behavioral sciences and director of human research in the Center for Smell and Taste.

“Dr. Heilman said, ‘If you can come up with something quick and inexpensive, we can do it,’” Stamps said.

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.

Researchers once thought that protein plaques commonly seen in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease were responsible for killing off nerve cells, causing disruptions in memory -- a hallmark of the disease. The plaques are primarily derived from a protein called amyloid precursor protein (APP). That protein kills nerve cells that detect odors.

In the study, patients who were coming to the clinic for testing also sat down with a clinician, 14 grams of peanut butter -- which equals about one tablespoon -- and a metric ruler. The patient closed his or her eyes and mouth and blocked one nostril. The clinician opened the peanut butter container and held the ruler next to the open nostril while the patient breathed normally. The clinician then moved the peanut butter up the ruler one centimeter at a time during the patient’s exhale until the person could detect an odor. The distance was recorded and the procedure repeated on the other nostril after a 90-second delay.

The clinicians running the test did not know the patients’ diagnoses, which were not usually confirmed until weeks after the initial clinical testing.

Difference In Ability To Detect Odour Between Right and Left Nostril

The scientists found that patients in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease had a dramatic difference in detecting odor between the left and right nostril -- the left nostril was impaired and did not detect the smell until it was an average of 10 centimeters 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 the 24 patients tested who had mild cognitive impairment, which sometimes signals Alzheimer’s disease and sometimes turns out to be something else, about 10 patients showed a left nostril impairment and 14 patients did not. The researchers said more studies must be conducted to fully understand the implications.

“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.”

Stamps and Heilman point out that this test could be used by clinics that don’t have access to the personnel or equipment to run other, more elaborate tests required for a specific diagnosis, which can lead to targeted treatment. At UF Health, the peanut butter test will be one more tool to add to a full suite of clinical tests for neurological function in patients with memory disorders.

One of the first places in the brain to degenerate in people with Alzheimer’s disease is the front part of the temporal lobe that evolved from the smell system, and this portion of the brain is involved in forming new memories.

“We see people with all kinds of memory disorders,” Heilman said. Many tests to confirm a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias can be time-consuming, costly or invasive. “This can become an important part of the evaluation process.”

11 Factors Affecting Alzheimer's Risk

COCONUT OIL
Dr. Newport, a physician who runs a neonatology ward in a Florida hospital, became determined to help her husband after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. After incorporating coconut oil into his diet, Steve Newport began passing specific clock tests designed to help diagnose Alzheimer's patients. He began improving intellectually, emotionally and physically.

VITAMIN D
People with higher intakes of vitamin D may be at a lower risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. The highest average intakes of the sunshine vitamin were associated with a 77% decrease in the risk of Alzheimer's, report researchers in the The Journal of Gerontology: Medical Science.

EXERCISE
According to a study published in the journal Neurology.New research out of the University of Maryland School of Public Health shows that exercise may improve cognitive function by increasing the efficiency of brain activity associated with memory.

RESTRICTED DIET
Cutting calories may halt or even reverse the symptoms of Alzheimer's. Compared to those on a normal diet, the monkeys that were fed the reduced-calorie diet were less likely to have Alzheimer's disease-type changes in their brain.

PSYCHOLOGICAL FACTORS
Susceptibility to psychological distress seems to be associated with the risk of Alzheimer's disease, researchers in Chicago report in an issue of the journal Neurology.

HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE AND DIET
Several studies to be presented at an International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease and Related Disorders indicate that people may be able to reduce their chances of developing Alzheimer's by treating high blood pressure and controlling their diet.

MEDITERRRANEAN DIET
People who carefully followed the Mediterranean diet -- heavy on fish, fruits and vegetables, monounsaturated fats such as those found in olive oil, and low on meat and dairy products -- had a 40 percent lower risk of developing Alzheimer's than those who ate the conventional American diet.

ALUMINUM IN DRINKING WATER
After comparing data to death rates from Alzheimer's in regions in northwest Italy, the researchers found that the disease was more common in areas with the highest levels of monomeric aluminum.

APPLES
Thomas B. Shea, PhD, of the Center for Cellular Neurobiology; Neurodegeneration Research University of Massachusetts, Lowell and his research team have carried out a number of laboratory studies demonstrating that drinking apple juice helped mice perform better than normal in maze trials, and prevented the decline in performance that was otherwise observed as these mice aged.

SUGARY DRINKS
Following memory skill and brain composition tests, sugar-fed mice were found to have worse learning and memory retention and their brains contained over twice as many amyloid plaque deposits, an anatomical hallmark of Alzheimer's.

TURMERIC
Respected ethnobotanist James A. Duke, Phd. found more than 50 studies on turmeric's effects in addressing Alzheimer's disease. The reports indicate that extracts of turmeric contain a number of natural agents that block the formation of beta-amyloid, the substance responsible for the plaques that slowly obstruct cerebral function in Alzheimer's disease.

Mae Chan holds degrees in both physiology and nutritional sciences. She is also blogger and and technology enthusiast with a passion for disseminating information about health.


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