Could nose-picking lead to Alzheimer’s disease?

A new study finds the seemingly harmless act of nose-picking could be a cause of Alzheimer’s disease.

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A new study finds the seemingly harmless act of nose-picking could be a cause of Alzheimer’s disease. (Photo: Adobe Stock)

When it comes to medical research, breakthrough discoveries can emerge from the most unexpected sources. The intricate puzzle of Alzheimer’s disease, a debilitating neurodegenerative condition affecting approximately six million Americans, has long baffled scientists. While genetic predispositions and lifestyle factors have been extensively explored, a peculiar possible new link has emerged — the seemingly innocuous habit of nose-picking.

As far-fetched as it may seem, a recent report broke down the potential correlation between the two. Alzheimer’s disease is a form of progressive dementia triggered by the presence of the protein beta-amyloid in the body. In this new study, researchers discovered the brain can sometimes produce beta-amyloid as a defense mechanism to germs introduced through the nasal cavity. 

“There is even some evidence to suggest that [beta-amyloid] may have antibacterial properties as a defense mechanism against microbial infections in the brain,” the report reads, per People magazine. “The olfactory system represents a plausible route for pathogen entry, given its direct anatomical connection to the brain and its involvement in the early stages of [Alzheimer’s disease].”

In other words, sticking fingers that often carry thousands of germs into the nasal cavity increases the likelihood of pathogens reaching the brain, which can contribute to neuroinflammation. While bacterial, fungal and viral infections have previously been linked to Alzheimer’s, the report further explains that the germs introduced through nose-picking “are known to establish persistent, latent, or chronic infections […] that may persist for extended periods without causing overt symptoms, until they enter the brain with pathological consequences.”

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While these infections can play a role in explaining an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, the National Institute on Aging emphasizes that the disease is also caused by a combination of age-related changes in the brain, along with genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors. Although Black people over 70 only make up 21.3% of Alzheimer’s cases, Black people are more likely to develop the disease compared to their white counterparts.   

“It is essential to note that the temporary relief obtained from nose picking is not a substitute for proper nasal hygiene, which involves regular cleaning and maintenance of the nasal passages through gentle methods such as saline nasal rinses or blowing the nose,” the report said. “One of the lessons learned from COVID-19 is the value of hand hygiene through frequent hand washing and the use of hand sanitizers, and we suggest these routine hygienic procedures be mandatory routine procedures for the incurable nose-picker.”

In short, next time you find yourself reaching for that booger, grab a tissue instead. 

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