Peanut Butter Test Could Help Diagnose Alzheimer’s Disease

By Breanna Draxler | October 10, 2013 1:59 pm

peanut butter test can help diagnose Alzheimer's diseasePeanut butter. It’s a regular staple of sandwiches, mouse traps, and the occasional practical joke. But now researchers have another, more serious use for the sticky stuff: detecting early signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s affects the front of the brain’s temporal lobe—the portion responsible for short-term memory and sense of smell, among other things. Forgetfulness is extremely difficult to measure or track because it is a slow, downward spiral and can easily be chalked up to other causes like aging.

But smell is a little more straightforward, which inspired researchers to give a novel nose-based diagnostic test a try.

Peanut Butter Test

Armed with a dollop of peanut butter and a wooden 12-inch ruler, researchers measured the distance between a peanut butter sample and the noses of patients (who were closing their eyes and plugging one nostril at a time). Researchers inched the spread closer to patients’ noses, little by little, until they could detect the nutty aroma, at which point the distance was recorded.

As Huffington Post explained,

At the time of the clinical tests, researchers were unaware of whether subjects had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s — the most common form of dementia — or with another type of mental deterioration. However, once they compared the metric measurements with subjects’ levels of cognitive impairment, the results were striking.

Dramatic Decline

Not only did the simple peanut butter test show a dramatic decline in sniffing abilities, but it singled out Alzheimer’s patients surprisingly well. As reported in the Daily Mail,

What Stamps found is that Alzheimer’s patients, unlike those with other forms of dementia, had better smell in the right nostril than in the left. On average, patients could smell the peanut butter at about 20 centimeters from their right nostril versus 10 centimeters from their left.

Other dementia sufferers, meanwhile, could smell the peanut butter equally well out of both nostrils.

While the peanut butter test is a good tool for confirming a diagnosis, it, by itself, is certainly not enough for doctors to go on. But the study, published in the latest issue of the Journal of Neurological Sciences, does show that olfaction may be a promising avenue for future diagnostic tests for Alzheimer’s. With a built-in post-test snack.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts
  • Guest

    As remarkable as this story is, I would love to know how the test got started, I mean, who came up with the idea for it?

    • PapaSpud

      Kinda like the robo squirrel, I think some people have too much time on their hands.

      • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Louis Stanfield

        Spoken like someone with NO understanding of science or how it works. Too much time, indeed.

      • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Ivan Roldan

        Because time spent on medical research is wasted time. Moron…

        • Emkay

          then why did you take the time to read the article?…moron…

      • Emkay

        but there is plenty of research money, and these are jobs?…. real ‘work’ is getting done…unlike political hacks who only run their mouths…

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Breanna Draxler

      A grad student at the University of Florida came up with the idea, and she picked peanut butter for a very specific reason. We perceive most smells thanks to a combination of two cranial nerves–the olfactory and the trigeminal (which controls feeling in the face). Peanut butter, in contrast, is a “pure odorant,” meaning it is processed solely in the olfactory nerve. This allowed the researchers to see a clear difference between Alzheimer’s patients (whose olfactory nerves have degenerated) and those whose dementia lies elsewhere in the brain.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Mike Noel

    It has been known for some time that early Alzheimer’s causes first an increase, then later a decrease in the sense of smell. I imagine they were exploring that idea when they noticed the left/right difference.

  • Xemist

    PRESCRIPTION peanut butter – and don’t plan on getting off cheap. It will be an “experimental medical device” ineligible for healthcare insurance reimbursement. The remarkably expensive servomechanism ruler with a digitally-encoded track and Bluetooth data interface will be use once and toss, taxed for being medical equipment.

    There will be bacterial and fungal contamination scandals re outsourced pharmaceutical peanut butter and hacked ruler interfaces. Not to worry! The patent expires in 20 years. There may be generic Skippy and Peter Pan competitive products if you are patient.

    1,4-diazabicyclo[2.2.2]octane (DABCO) smells like peanuts. More studies are needed.

    • dickG

      And don’t forget the 10% Federal medical device tax!

    • Hazel White

      Just keep letting me have my Jif!

  • Skyler

    isn’t this too late for neuroscience community to recognize this fact?

  • Chris Punches

    I find it remarkably hard to believe that a person can smell out of one nostril better than the other.

    • chomps

      Care to elaborate on why?

      • Chris Punches

        Only if you elaborate on why you want to know why.

  • Dominic VOLPE

    Until there in no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, what good is it to detect this disease early ? To live with the fear until the day when it happens ? Or rather not live?

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Breanna Draxler

      It helps to know whether the memory loss is due to Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, since the degeneration and treatment are different for each.

  • Social Marketing Tools Reviews

    It has been known for a while that starting Alzheimer’s causes first an enhance, then later a lack of the faction. I think about they were finding that idea when they noticed the left/right difference.

  • Aitor Xaranga

    It’s available now through a Canadian Pharma Website!

  • jonik

    Perhaps relevant to this…being about peanuts and smell…is the matter
    of US Patent 3,978,866 which describes a process to make a cigarette stuffing partly or entirely from peanut shells. It’s one of many
    patents for “substitute tobacco material” that’s camouflaged (to lie) to
    look, smell, taste like tobacco…with measured shot of nicotine
    added…plus long list of untested, unlabeled additives.
    No labeling is required, and no testing for the safety of this (like about peanut allergies, etc.) has been done.

    No matter that it’s not tobacco. It’s still sold in “tobacco shops”,
    hit with “tobacco taxes”, and prohibited as if it was tobacco (without studies to find health justification). And people are prosecuted as if they violated some “tobacco” laws. Science, medicine, and law are widely disrespected in any “smoking” area that isn’t clear about just what is being smoked.
    Could also be corncobs, paper, coffee bean hulls, or wood chips instead of tobacco.
    See other things that so-called “tobacco products” are made from at the US Patent Office. Look for that “substitute tobacco material” class.

  • Seth Kaplan

    Going into this “experiment” with the fixed idea that Alzheimer’s is the most common dementia calls the work into question. Sounds like a waste of good peanut butter.

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