You may mindlessly do it in your car or get caught doing it at your desk, but the seemingly harmless act of “digging for gold” could have serious health effects.
A recent study published in the journal Biomolecules found a link between nose picking and Alzheimer’s disease, a memory-robbing disease.
When a person picks their nose, bacteria, viruses and fungi can enter the brain, increasing the chance of developing dementia, the study suggested.
Australian researchers wrote that external pathogens introduced into the nasal cavity when someone picks their nose, a habit that 91 percent of Americans have, harmful pathogens can travel to the brain and cause inflammation.
Inflammation caused by germs has been shown to cause a harmful buildup of amyloid beta proteins, a hallmark feature in the brains of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
Some of the pathogens thought to play a role in causing harmful neuroinflammation include the herpes virus, the bacteria that causes pneumonia, the coronavirus, and the fungi Candida albicans.
The memory-robbing disease is characterized by a buildup of harmful protein deposits in the brain known as amyloid beta. When the brain becomes inflamed, it expresses an amyloid precursor protein that can accumulate in clumps and affect healthy brain cells.
Australian researchers said chronic nose picking, scientifically known as rhinotillexomania, can increase the transfer of harmful microorganisms from a person’s hand to their nose, transforming the nasal microbiome from a beneficial environment to a potentially harmful one.
“Neuroinflammation in AD could be caused in part by viral, bacterial, and fungal pathogens that enter the brain through the nose and olfactory system,” they wrote.
The change in the nasal microbiome, a set of healthy bacteria that naturally exist in the body, could have implications for mild and chronic brain infections arising from the olfactory system.
This system is the body’s network responsible for a person’s sense of smell. The system includes nerves, an olfactory bulb, and an olfactory tract found at the base of the brain.
Putting germ-covered hands to your nose allows potentially dangerous bacteria to enter the nose and travel through the tract, where they could eventually reach the brain.
Once there, it can contribute to inflammation and the development of neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s.
The Western Sydney University team behind the review of hundreds of studies said: “Among all the entry routes, improving hand hygiene could be an easy prevention step, as learned from the COVID epidemic -19.
“One of the lessons learned from COVID-19 is the value of hand hygiene through frequent hand washing and use of hand sanitizers, and we suggest that these routine hygiene procedures be mandatory routine procedures for the incurable picker nose”.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia worldwide, affecting approximately 6.7 million Americans over the age of 65.
The exact origins of the disease are still being studied, but scientists have pointed to a buildup of amyloid plaques and tangles in the brain of a protein called tau.
When the brain comes into contact with an external pathogen carried by a finger to the nose, it reacts by producing substances that generate an immune response.
These cause inflammation of the brain.
Once the brain is inflamed, immune cells that specifically defend the central nervous system called microglia begin to produce proteins that accumulate over time and clump together and form plaques, a characteristic feature of conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Nose picking introduces pathogens into the nasal cavity, where they can enter the brain by crossing the protective blood-brain barrier and causing inflammation in the brain.
Mood swings and swearing are signs of Alzheimer’s and frontotemporal dementia (FTD), a type of dementia that causes behavioral and language problems.
Infectious agents can survive for long periods in the nasal cavity without causing symptoms until they reach the brain, meaning it could take years between a pathogen entering the body and the development of dementia symptoms.
Several specific pathogens have been associated with Alzheimer’s disease, including the herpes simplex virus, the bacteria Chlamydia pneumoniae that causes pneumonia, fungi such as Candida albicans, and parasites such as Toxoplasma gondii.
In one study included in the researchers’ review, scientists infected mice with Chlamydia pneumonia through the nose. Within 72 hours, the bacteria had spread to the mice’s olfactory system.
About a month later, the team found accumulations of amyloid plaques near where the bacteria were located in the body and discovered that C. pneumoniae caused the degradation of genes related to proteins associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
The researchers concluded that the study “directly links” plaque formation to pathogens entering through the nose.
The link between Alzheimer’s and the herpes simplex virus is specifically related to the gene that predisposes people to Alzheimer’s, known as APOE4.
Another study cited by the Australians found approximately 60 percent of individuals who carry the APOE4 gene and have Alzheimer’s also had the herpes simplex virus present in their brains.
Additionally, the coronavirus can enter through the nasal cavity and cross the blood-brain barrier, a network of blood vessels and tissues that serves as a protective layer within the brain.
Once this barrier is overcome, pathogens can infect the central nervous system.
Researchers also said that common fungi such as Candida, Malassezia, Cladosporium and Alternaria have been found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s.
Fungi are usually harmless, but they can cause infections in people with weakened immune systems.
Candida has specifically been identified as having the potential to enter the brain and create clusters of cells that accumulate proteins that could cause a harmful buildup of amyloid beta.
According to one of the only studies to investigate the issue, a 1995 survey of 1,000 adults living in Wisconsin found 91 percent admitted to pick his nose.
When asked why, most said it was to relieve itching or to remove “debris.”
Aside from the risk of dementia, the habit is generally unsafe.
A 2006 study found that nose pickers surveyed at an ear, nose and throat clinic were more likely to have the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus, responsible for staph infections and bloodstream infections, in their nasal passages than those who don’t pick their nose.
In one case, a 66-year-old woman with a long history of nose picking was repeatedly hospitalized for a type of bacteria known to cause skin and tissue infections, as well as pneumonia and bloodstream infections called sensitive Staphylococcus aureus. methicillin (MSSA). ).
The patient suffered attacks of recurrent infections, such as sepsis, meningitis, endocarditis, cystitis and discitis, due to which MSSA is believed to have entered her body through the nasal cavity.
The extensive review was published in the journal Biomolecules and was funded by a massive private donation to Western Sydney University.
The study was republished by the US National Institutes of Health, the main federal agency responsible for public health research.