Using a teaspoon of peanut butter and a ruler on test subjects, Jennifer Stamps, who studies biomedical sciences with a concentration in neuroscience, found that a person’s sense of smell — or lack thereof — can detect Alzheimer’s disease.
Stamps conducted the experiment on 94 subjects. Of the 24 patients who had mild cognitive impairment, 10 patients showed a left nostril impairment, which patients in the early stages of Alzheimer’s usually have.
“There was a difference of 12 centimeters between the left and the right nostril,” she said. “We realized we had a remarkable finding.”
The impairment in the left nostril was linked with a positive Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis. On average, there was a 5 centimeter smelling range for the left nostril, which is part of the olfactory nerve. The nerve is stimulated by the smell of a pure odorant, like peanut butter.
Stamps’ mentor, Dr. Kenneth Heilman, told her if she could come up with something quick and inexpensive she could conduct the study.
Other neurological exams fail to test sense of smell because it’s time consuming, Stamps said.
“Right now, the peanut butter test is good for early diagnostics,” she said.
Reynaldo Calzadilla, a 20-year-old computer engineering sophomore, whose grandfather had Alzheimer’s disease, said he would opt out of the diagnostic test.
“I just feel like I would change my life in a negative way,” Calzadilla said. “It’s good to know that science is advancing and helping people, but I still wouldn’t want to know.”
Anyone who does the test at home should be cautious.
Stamps said it will only work for people who are in the age range of being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
“If you’re doing this at home, please make sure you want to know,” Stamps said. “Don’t freak out if your sense of smell is significantly different in both nostrils. Get checked by your doctor.”
A version of this story ran on page 8 on 10/14/2013 under the headline "Peanut butter helps detect Alzheimer’s." This story has been updated to reflect corrections.