Your mom told you to never pick your nose – and that advice was probably wiser than she knew.
People who pick their noses can introduce bacteria that travel to the olfactory nerve and brain, potentially increasing the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new study.
Researchers from Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia, monitored rats and found that Chlamydia pneumoniae traveled down the nerve between the nasal cavity and the brain and then invaded the central nervous system. In response, brain cells accumulated amyloid beta protein, which is considered a marker of Alzheimer’s disease. The brain scans of these mice showed the same patterns one would expect to be found with dementia.
The olfactory nerve is a powerful pathway for such bacteria because it has a short route to the brain and bypasses the blood-brain barrier.
In summarizing the researchers’ findings, James St. John, head of the Clem Jones Center for Neurobiology and Stem Cell Research and co-author of the study, said:
“We are the first to show that Chlamydia pneumoniae can travel directly to the nose and brain where it can set off malformations that look like Alzheimer’s disease. We saw this happen in a mouse model, and evidence that potentially Scary even for humans.”
It is worth noting that the findings in rats do not necessarily confirm that the same risk exists in humans. The researchers say the next phase of their study will focus on whether the same risk exists in people.
In the meantime, researchers are sure of one thing: Picking your nose or plucking your nose hair is a very bad idea. According to St. John:
“We don’t want to damage the inside of our nose and pick and break. If you damage the lining of the nose, you can increase how much bacteria can get into your brain.”
St John says the risk of developing dementia “recovers” after age 65 and that bacteria and viruses may play an “important” role in the course of the disease.
Several studies over the past few years have found evidence that infection with COVID-19 may increase the likelihood of developing dementia, and it may also accelerate the timetable for diagnosis of the disease.
St. John says that one of the first signs of possible Alzheimer’s disease is a lack of smell, and he recommends that people begin testing for smells as early as age 60.
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