Picking your nose could put you at risk of Alzheimer's and dementia

'If you damage the lining of the nose, you can increase how many bacteria can go up into your brain.'
Loukia Papadopoulos
Picking your nose may be very harmful to your health.jpg
Picking your nose may be very harmful to your health

Pawel Kajak/iStock 

Picking your nose might seem harmless albeit gross, but new research is showing it may have some devastating consequences, according to a press release published by Griffith University Friday.

A direct path to the brain

The new research demonstrates that a bacteria can travel through the olfactory nerve in the nose and into the brain in mice, where it creates markers that are a tell-tale sign of Alzheimer's disease.

More specifically what the team found was that Chlamydia pneumoniae used the nerve extending between the nasal cavity and the brain as a direct path to reach the central nervous system. The cells in the brain then reacted by depositing amyloid beta protein, a key precursor to the development of Alzheimer's disease.

The findings are in line with previous research on the matter.

A study last year found that the leakage of a specific toxic compound in the bloodstream might be the fundamental cause of Alzheimer’s. The research team discovered that beta-amyloids form outside of the brain and are then pushed through the body's bloodstream via lipoproteins.

Professor James St John, Head of the Clem Jones Center for Neurobiology and Stem Cell Research, is a co-author of the new research he says is a world first.

Picking your nose could put you at risk of Alzheimer's and dementia
Bacterium Chlamydia pneumoniae

"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," St John said. "We saw this happen in a mouse model, and the evidence is potentially scary for humans as well."

In mice, the researchers noticed that the olfactory nerve in the nose offers a short pathway to the brain, one which bypasses the blood-brain barrier. As such, viruses and bacteria use it as a direct route to the brain.

Now, the team just needs to prove that the same pathway exists in humans and can be used in the same fashion by nefarious viruses and bacteria.

Same 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. What we do know is that these same bacteria are present in humans, but we haven't worked out how they get there."

To lower the risk of developing late-onset Alzheimer's disease, St John recommends avoiding certain activities.

"Picking your nose and plucking the hairs from your nose are not a good idea," he said.

"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."

He further recommends smell tests for those 60 years and older in order to diagnose Alzheimer's and dementia early.

"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."

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