I have been wanting to write about a topic that is not nutrition but clearly makes the point of having to read past sensational headlines, be skeptical of food miracles and seek out credentialed experts for clarification.
While researching peanut butter, my husband’s favorite lunch food, I came across hundreds of articles about the peanut butter test for detecting Alzheimer’s disease. The articles, TV and radio spots were based on a study from University of Florida. The UF researchers found that patients in the early stages of Alzheimer’s had a dramatic difference in detecting odor between the left and right nostril. And this easy test could be done unsupervised at home.
The brain’s temporal lobe is closely linked with the sense of smell and making new memories, and is one of the first areas of the brain impacted by Alzheimer’s disease. So there was a basis for the research. But before I diagnose myself as having a horrible disease, I need to dig deeper into the research.
I found one article in a medical journal, “The lateralized smell test for detecting Alzheimer’s disease: failure to replicate.” The paper was published in the Journal of the Neurological Sciences, May 2014. The researchers tested 15 Alzheimer’s patients using the UF protocol. They found no difference between nostrils. The authors stated that people with Alzheimer’s have a reduced ability to smell but it is not asymmetrical. There is no valid smell test for detecting early Alzheimer’s.
This second study got no press. In fact when I googled “peanut butter test for AD fails” only the promoting articles came up. The point of this rant is don’t blindly follow sensational headlines. There is usually more to the story, particularly when nutrition is the topic.
Peanut butter is wonderful. It has protein, healthy fats, potassium and great taste. It is not a diagnostic tool.
Sheah Rarback is a registered dietitian on the faculty of the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine. Follow her on Twitter @sheahrarback.