Digging for nose gold could dig you an early grave, new shocking research suggests.
A new study published in the journal Biomolecules has uncovered an alarming potential link between the unhealthy habit of nose picking and an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease later in life.
In a bombshell discovery poised to upend medical thinking, scientists now say that rhinotillexomania - the medical term for compulsive nose picking - may open up infection pathways into the brain, leading to chronic inflammation and setting the stage for Alzheimer's disease later in life. So the next time you go mining in your nostrils for a crusty treasure, you could actually be unwittingly paving the pathway towards your brain's decline. Put down those picks - your life could quite literally depend on breaking your nasty nose picking habit for good!
The study, led by Dr. Xian Zhou of Zhejiang University in China, advances the intriguing hypothesis that nose picking may open up pathways for harmful pathogens to enter the brain through the close-by olfactory nerves. Over time, having these pathogens within the brain could spark damaging inflammatory responses that are increasingly being tied to the progression of Alzheimer's.
"Digging for nose gold could dig you an early grave, new shocking research suggests," explains study co-author Dr. Gerald W. Münch. "In a bombshell discovery poised to upend medical thinking, scientists now say that rhinotillexomania - the medical term for compulsive nose picking - may open up infection pathways into the brain, leading to chronic inflammation and setting the stage for Alzheimer's disease later in life."
The Link Between Infections, Inflammation and Alzheimer's
The characteristic signs of Alzheimer’s disease in the brain are clumps of amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles of tau protein. For over a decade now, researchers have suspected and gathered evidence that viruses, bacteria and fungi may contribute to the neuroinflammation driving the formation of these hallmarks of Alzheimer's.
The olfactory nerves that detect smells in the nose have direct connections to the brain. Cells lining these nerves also have receptors that pathogens like viruses and bacteria can exploit to invade deeper neural tissues. Researchers now believe that over the longer-term, this can cause damaging neuroinflammation.
Past studies have already found higher loads of pathogens like herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) and Chlamydophila pneumoniae in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients compared to healthy controls, especially near olfactory areas. The new study proposes that nose picking could be one behavior that facilitates the entry and transmission of these and other pathogens into the nose and olfactory nerves.
Gross Habit Opens Door to Brain Infection
While nose picking may offer temporary relief of discomfort from a stuffy or itchy nose, digging around inside the nasal passages can damage the sensitive mucosal lining. This then gives an opening for infectious pathogens on the hands and under fingernails to implant themselves within the nose. From there, it may be easier for them to infiltrate deeper into olfactory nerve channels and tissues linking directly to the brain.
"So the next time you go mining in your nostrils for a crusty treasure, you could actually be unwittingly paving the pathway towards your brain's decline," Dr. Münch cautions. "Put down those picks - your life could quite literally depend on breaking your nasty nose picking habit for good!"
Researchers suggest that improving hand hygiene through more frequent hand washing or use of hand sanitizers, especially after nose blowing, could help limit contagion. However, the number one recommendation is to stop nose picking altogether. Kicking the nasty habit could go a long way towards avoiding inflammation-driving pathogens entry to the brain through the olfactory tract.
More Research Needed On Nose Picking-Alzheimer's Link
The startling nose picking link is currently still hypothetical. More direct epidemiological research tracking nose pickers would help establish clearer correlation between rhinotillexomania early in life and Dementia risk many decades later.
But even the prospect of a potential connection to Alzheimer's provides yet another convincing reason to resist inserted fingers to keep nasal passages clean instead. As Dr. Zhou concluded, "We suggest that nose-picking increases the transfer of pathogenic microorganisms from the hand into the nose changing the nasal microbiome from a symbiotic to a pathogenic type, with possible consequences of chronic low-level brain infection via the olfactory system, subsequent neuroinflammation, and neurodegenerative diseases including AD.”
So next time you have the urge to mine for nose gold, consider putting down the pick and washing your hands. Your brain health just a few decades down the road will thank you!