It might seem absurd, but the act of picking your nose – rude and unhygienic – can increase the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease , the main form of dementia in the world. It is a complex neurodegenerative pathology associated with cognitive decline and memory loss , the underlying causes of which, however, are not yet clear. The accumulation of “sticky” proteins such as beta amyloid plaques and tau protein tangles are typically associated with Alzheimer's, but a recent study published in the journal JAMA by American scientists from Rush University has highlighted that a healthy lifestyle can counteract cognitive decline also with the accumulation of beta amyloid in the brain. Other investigations have highlighted that neuroinflammation linked to brain infections could also be a fuse capable of triggering dementia. And this is precisely where the gesture of picking your nose comes into play.
A study conducted by researchers at Griffith University (Australia) observed that Chlamydia pneumoniae infection damaging the olfactory nerve can promote invasion of the brain, in turn catalyzing the accumulation of beta amyloid plaques, one of the signs typical of neurodegeneration . This has been seen in mice, but considering that DNA from this pathogen is detected in 80 percent of Alzheimer's patients, it would not be surprising to find a close link between the infection and dementia. The olfactory nerve in fact connects the external environment with the brain and can bypass the blood-brain barrier , the “shield” that protects brain tissue from viruses , bacteria , fungi and parasites . Picking your nose can damage the nasal cavities and encourage the proliferation of pathogens, which thus have a wide open highway to the brain. Research by the Department of Neuropathology of the Charité Institute in Berlin had shown that the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 , the pathogen responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic , can exploit the nerve cells of the olfactory mucosa and travel up the olfactory nerve to the brain , allowing him to attack him. Other pathogens linked to Alzheimer's such as the Chlamydia pneumoniae bacterium can do the same thing
A new review study led by scientists at the University of Western Sydney's NICM Health Research Institute has further highlighted how picking your nose can promote the onset of dementia. In addition to the bacterium Chlamydia pneumoniae , the researchers point out that other pathogens such as the fungus Candida albicans and the parasite Toxoplasma gondii are capable of establishing “persistent, latent or chronic infections in peripheral tissues”, which also includes the nasal epithelium. . In this location they can persist for a long time without triggering obvious symptoms, “until they enter the brain with pathological consequences”. And how do they get into the nose? An obvious path is precisely that of rhinotillexomania , the scientific term with which experts call the compulsive habit of picking one's nose to remove boogers . Everything that is found on the tips of our fingers that are not carefully sanitized is deposited in the nasal cavity and here, as indicated, can travel up through the olfactory nerve to the brain. Furthermore, according to scientists led by professors Xian Zhou and Gerald W. Munch, even removing material from the nose can alter the balance of the microbiome , compromising its effectiveness as a “shield” against invading pathogens.
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The researchers highlight that several viruses are normally detected in the brains of people with Alzheimer's and neurodegeneration is often first identified in the olfactory bulb . It is still too early to reach conclusions, but it is clear that the rude gesture of picking one's nose with fingers “dirty with earth or feces” could represent a risk, precisely in light of the direct anatomical connection between the brain and the nasal cavities. . The advice of experts is therefore to sanitize your hands often , a recommendation that we have heard many times during the COVID pandemic, precisely because it allows pathogens to easily reach the tissues where they can trigger an infection. The risk, in fact, is that this infection could be followed by neuroinflammation associated with dementia. The details of the research “Neuroinflammation in Alzheimer's Disease: A Potential Role of Nose-Picking in Pathogen Entry via the Olfactory System?” were published in the scientific journal Biomolecules.