Could you pick a scarier headline? On October 28, the GriffithNews from Griffith University in Australia posted a piece entitled: “New research suggests nose picking could increase risk for Alzheimer’s and dementia.” Now, that prospect could be as frightening as the boogie monster. That is, if you were actually someone who picks his or her nose, because, of course, you’ve never done that, right? Well before this headline gets your nose out of joint and the rest of you to jump to any conclusions, there’s one thing to know about this research: it’s very mice.
Yeah, that GriffithNews headline may have squeaked that detail by you. The piece was based on a mouse study, not a human study, published back on February 17 in the journal Scientific Reports. Why did the GriffithNews choose to wait eight months to write about this study? Who “nose?” Regardless, the piece told the tale of what a team of researchers based at Griffith University (Anu Chacko, Ali Delbaz, Heidi Walkden, Souptik Basu, Tanja Eindorf, , Edith Miller, Nicholas P. West, James A. St John, and Jenny A. K. Ekberg) and Queensland University of Technology (Logan K. Trim and Kenneth W. Beagley) in Australia and King’s College London (Charles W. Armitage) in the U.K. did with mice.
No, the researchers didn’t leave a dozen mice by themselves, assure the mice that no one else was looking, and then wait until the mice started picking their noses. That would have entailed separate rooms, a lot of little cameras, and a ton of denial from the mice afterwards such, “it was not a pick. It was just rubbing the outside of the nose.”
Instead, the researchers inserted a bacteria called Chlamydia pneumoniae up the mice’s noses. Now Chlamydia pneumoniae is not that kind of Chlamydia, you know the kind that your one-night stand leaves a message about on your voice mail after you had decided during your tryst, “condom? who needs a condom?” That’s Chlamydia trachomatis. Chlamydia pneumoniae instead is a different type of Chlamydia that can cause respiratory tract infections, such as pneumonia, hence the name.
Nevertheless, within 72 hours this bacteria was able to infect the olfactory and trigeminal nerves, olfactory bulb and brain of the mice. Eventually deposits of amyloid beta protein in the brain formed, something that’s seen in Alzheimer’s disease.
The GriffithNews piece quoted James St. John, PhD, one of the authors of the publication and Head of the Clem Jones Centre for Neurobiology and Stem Cell Research, as saying, “Picking your nose and plucking the hairs from your nose are not a good idea,” as opposed to everyone who may have told you that picking your nose is a great idea. St. John added, “We don’t want to damage the inside of our nose and picking and plucking can do that.” He also indicated, “If you damage the lining of the nose, you can increase how many bacteria can go up into your brain.”
Now before you start keeping your hands tied behind your back or wearing a hockey face mask at all times, keep in mind that this study was done only in mice. And assuming that you aren’t furry with whiskers and a tail, what’s found in mice doesn’t always necessarily apply to humans. Moreover, while amyloid beta protein deposits are seen in Alzheimer’s disease, this study did not prove that the mice developed Alzheimer’s disease or any type of dementia. So the GriffithNews headline is a bit of a stretch.
Is this a definitive study to prove that nose-picking can lead to Alzheimer’s disease in humans? No, its snot. Much more research is needed to connect the thing that you don’t do with such a disease. But say, theoretically, that you were to maybe, potentially, possibly pick your nose once in a blue moon. Should the findings from this study hit you on the nose? Well, as they say, everything in life is about moderation. Sure, introducing potential disease-causing bacteria like Chlamydia pneumoniae into different parts of your body is never a good idea. And you probably know that your date isn’t likely to say, “you know that thing that you do when you shove your finger up your nose? That gets me hot.” So nose-picking probably isn’t something that you are actively training yourself to do. But if for whatever reason you find your fingers somewhere inside your nose, don’t treat your nostril like an oil well and your finger like a drill. And make sure that you wash your hands thoroughly first.