Don’t go digging for gold in your golden years.
New research suggests that picking your nose could increase your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia.
Bacteria can travel through the nasal cavity’s olfactory nerve — streamlined through a pick — reach the brain and create markers that are “a tell-tale sign of Alzheimer’s disease,” according to scientists from Australia’s Griffith University.
Specifically, their study, published in Scientific Reports, observed the bacteria Chlamydia pneumoniae — a germ linked to respiratory infections including pneumonia — use the olfactory nerve as “an invasion path to assault the central nervous system.” Cells in the brain then responded to the attack by depositing amyloid beta protein, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s.
“We’re the first to show that Chlamydia pneumoniae can go directly up the nose and into the brain where it can set off pathologies that look like Alzheimer’s disease,” professor James St. John, the study’s co-author and head of the Clem Jones Center for Neurobiology and Stem Cell Research, said in a press release.
While the study was conducted on mice, St. John said “the evidence is potentially scary for humans as well.”
The olfactory nerve serves as an express route for bacteria to reach the brain as it bypasses the blood-brain barrier, according to the researchers. Their next phase of research, they said, is aimed at proving the same pathway exists in humans.
“We need to do this study in humans and confirm whether the same pathway operates in the same way. It’s research that has been proposed by many people, but not yet completed,” St. John said.
“What we do know is that these same bacteria are present in humans, but we haven’t worked out how they get there.”
St. John and his team noted that a loss of smell can be an early sign of Alzheimer’s and suggests smell tests for those 60 and up as an early detector.
“Once you get over 65 years old, your risk factor goes right up, but we’re looking at other causes as well, because it’s not just age — it is environmental exposure as well. And we think that bacteria and viruses are critical.”
The professor also passed on some valuable guidance on how to protect yourself from nose-pick-related neurological distress.
“Picking your nose and plucking the hairs from your nose are not a good idea … We don’t want to damage the inside of our nose and picking and plucking can do that.
“If you damage the lining of the nose, you can increase how many bacteria can go up into your brain.”