Nose picking can be more than just a social faux pas.
An Australian study suggests there may be a link between nose picking and the late development of Alzheimer’s disease.
The study – titled “Chlamydia pneumoniae can infect the central nervous system via the olfactory and trigeminal nerves and contributes to the risk of Alzheimer’s disease” – was published in the journal Scientific Reports.
He looked at the ability of bacteria to move through the nose and into the brain in mice.
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“Chlamydia pneumoniae is a pathogen of the respiratory tract but can also infect the central nervous system (CNS)”, according to the study – noting that there is an “increasingly clear” link between C. pneumoniae infection in the central nervous system and the development of late onset dementia.
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Bacteria traveled between the nose and brain in mice, the study found.
“We are the first to show that Chlamydia pneumoniae can travel directly into the nose and into the brain where it can trigger conditions that resemble Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr James St John, one of the co- authors of the study, in a press release published on October 28, 2022.
“We’ve seen this happen in a mouse model, and the evidence is potentially frightening for humans as well.”
St John is head of the Clem Jones Center for Neurobiology and Stem Cell Research at Griffith University in southeast Queensland, Australia.
“In mice, CNS infection has been shown to occur weeks to months after intranasal inoculation,” the researchers noted.
In this study, however, the scientists showed that the mice’s noses and facial nerves, as well as the olfactory bulb and brain, became infected within three days of exposure to the bacteria.
“C. pneumoniae infection also resulted in dysregulation of key pathways involved in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease 7 and 28 days after inoculation,” the study states.
When a mouse’s nose was injured and infected with C. pneumoniae, there was “an increase in infection of the peripheral nerves and olfactory bulb”.
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The next steps will be to replicate the study with human patients to determine if the human nose is a similar pathway for bacterial infection, St John said.
“We need to do this study in humans and confirm if the same pathway works the same way,” he said in the press release.
“This is research that has been proposed by many people, but has not yet been completed.”
“What we do know is that these same bacteria are present in humans, but we haven’t figured out how they get there,” St John added.
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Alzheimer’s disease is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States among adults over the age of 65, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the seventh leading cause of death among adults overall.
About 6.5 million people in the United States live with Alzheimer’s disease, the CDC said, making it the most common form of dementia in older adults.
Alzheimer’s disease has no known cause, the CDC said.
In the meantime, St John advises people to refrain from picking their nose or plucking their nose hair, as this could damage the inside of the nose, increasing the risk of any type of infection.
“We don’t want to damage the inside of our noses, and picking and picking can do that,” he said in the press release.
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“If you damage the lining of your nose, you can increase the number of bacteria that can get into your brain.”