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Can Nose Picking Increase Your Risk for Alzheimer’s?

Posted on May 13, 2024

Everyone knows it’s impolite to pick your nose. But is it actually dangerous?

There are many theories about what causes Alzheimer’s disease. Even the experts don’t agree on one definite cause. Most likely, Alzheimer’s is caused by a combination of genetic and lifestyle factors.

You may have read a recent scientific report which investigated whether a seemingly harmless daily habit, nose picking, could increase the risk of Alzheimer’s. It’s important to understand that there is no scientific evidence at this time that picking one’s nose directly causes Alzheimer’s. Let’s look at the details of this theory before overblowing the evidence.

Picking Apart New Research Findings

A 2023 scientific report in the journal Biomolecules discussed a possible link between nose picking and Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers suggested that harmful germs, like viruses and bacteria, may be on nose pickers’ fingers and gain access to the brain through the nasal cavity. If these germs cause an infection, they could promote inflammation in areas near the brain. Since Alzheimer’s disease is an inflammatory condition, infections could contribute to Alzheimer’s risk.

A 1992 study showed that people with late-onset Alzheimer’s disease were more likely to be nose pickers. However, this study only showed an association, and its authors stated that larger studies were needed to draw any conclusions. It didn’t prove that nose picking caused Alzheimer’s disease.

The authors of the 2023 study offered several examples of how different germs might affect the brain. For instance, certain fungi and herpes viruses are commonly found in the brain tissues of people with Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, the bacteria responsible for staph infections (Staphylococcus aureus) has been associated with higher levels of amyloid beta protein, which is widely considered a marker of Alzheimer’s disease.

Other experts question this theory that nose picking could contribute to Alzheimer’s. They think that perhaps people with Alzheimer’s get certain infections because of an underlying weak immune system and not because of fingers bringing germs to the nostrils. Bottom line: It’s not clear whether infections introduced through the nose may be a cause of Alzheimer’s, a complication of Alzheimer’s, or simply a coincidence.

Nonetheless, people who pick their noses without washing their hands are putting themselves at risk of catching a cold and other viruses, so it’s still worth considering giving up nose picking as a daily habit.

Safer Alternatives to Nose Picking

If you pick your nose, you’re not alone. It’s actually a pretty common habit. Some older studies have claimed that up to 91 percent of people pick their noses. You might have the urge to pick for various reasons — to scratch an itch or get quick relief from a stuffy nose. However, there are safer ways to get the same benefits.

First, it’s a good practice to wash your hands with soap and water before touching your eyes, mouth, or nose.

Blowing your nose into a tissue clears out the gunk without introducing new germs to your body. In addition, saline rinses and sprays can effectively clear your sinuses, but only if they’re completely sterile. It’s important never to share these products with other people or use them beyond their expiration date.

If you frequently have a stuffy nose, you may have allergies. Share this problem with your health care provider to see if there’s a better treatment option you should consider.

Additional Ways To Protect Your Brain

Inflammation of the brain, or neuroinflammation, is definitely worth avoiding. Along with Alzheimer’s disease, several brain disorders are associated with inflammation, including conditions like schizophrenia and depression. Fortunately, basic lifestyle habits like healthy eating and regular physical activity can go a long way toward keeping neuroinflammation down.

The biggest factors that promote neuroinflammation include:

  • Chronic stress
  • Diets high in saturated fats (like red meat and high-fat dairy products)
  • Exposure to toxins, like pesticides, heavy metals, and air pollution

Move Your Body

Exercise may be one of the most effective ways to maintain a healthy brain. The mental health benefits of physical activity include better sleep, lower stress, and improved mood. Even if you don’t consider yourself to be an active person now, it’s never too late to start. Talk to your doctor about an appropriate exercise plan and work on making movement part of your daily routine.

Eat Healthy

There’s no diet that can prevent or cure Alzheimer’s disease, but healthy eating can support overall wellness. It’s important to remember that not all fats are created equally. Healthy fats, like those found in avocados, walnuts, oily fish, and flaxseeds, are protective against neuroinflammation.

You can also include more naturally anti-inflammatory foods in your diet, such as a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables. If you’re having trouble finding healthy recipes or changing your diet, consider meeting with a registered dietitian nutritionist to help steer you in the right direction and find options that work for your lifestyle.

Many lifestyle choices may impact Alzheimer’s disease. But it’s important to remember that life is also about balance. Some members of myALZteam have talked about dietary changes and aren’t willing to deprive their loved ones with Alzheimer’s of the treats or foods that bring them comfort. Various factors, like age and the severity of the disease, are important to consider when deciding which battles are worth fighting if you’re a caregiver for someone with Alzheimer’s.

When it comes to the progression or development of Alzheimer’s disease, there’s a lot you can’t control. However, focusing on the things you are willing to change will help you maintain a positive attitude and improve your quality of life.

Find Your Team

On myALZteam you can connect with people with Alzheimer’s disease and their loved ones. More than 85,000 members come together on myALZteam to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with Alzheimer’s.

Are you or a loved one living with Alzheimer's disease? What do you do to practice good hygiene and stay healthy? Share your insights in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

    Posted on May 13, 2024
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    Kiran Chaudhari, M.B.B.S., M.D., Ph.D. is a specialist in pharmacology and neuroscience and is passionate about drug and device safety and pharmacovigilance. Learn more about him here.
    Anastasia Climan, RDN, CDN is a dietitian with over 10 years of experience in public health and medical writing. Learn more about her here.

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