Murch: Hope can come in many shapes, sizes

It might be time to rethink our kitchen pantries.

Researchers at University of Florida Health have confirmed that a diagnosis of early stage Alzheimer’s disease can be detected with a tablespoon of peanut butter, according to a study printed in the Journal of the Neurological Sciences, which was promoted by a press release from University of Florida. A grad student in the UF McKnight Brain Institute for Smell and Taste, Jennifer Stamps, reported the findings along with her colleagues.

Stamps and her colleagues took 14 grams of peanut butter and a metric ruler to have patients smell the peanut butter. The patient closed their eyes and mouth, and then breathed through one nostril. Then the clinician moved the peanut butter a centimeter at a time during the exhale until the patient could smell the peanut butter. They then repeated the process with the other nostril.

According to the press release from UF, “The scientists found that patients in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease had a dramatic difference in detecting odor between the left and right nostril – the left nostril was impaired and did not detect the smell until it was an average of 10 centimeters closer to the nose than the right nostril had made the detection in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. This was not the case in patients with other kinds of dementia; instead, these patients had either no differences in odor detection between nostrils or the right nostril was worse at detecting odor than the left one.”

Stamps came up with the idea while shadowing a professor in the department of neurology. She noticed that clinic patients weren’t being tested for their sense of smell, which is associated with the first cranial nerve. Stamps said she thought of peanut butter because “it’s a ‘pure odorant’ that is only detected by the olfactory nerve and is easy to access.”

Researchers continue to discover more breakthroughs involving Alzheimer’s and dementia and this is just another step. The UF researchers also stress that more testing needs to be done to understand the implications of the peanut butter test.

Two things jump out that are encouraging here. The first is that Stamps was encouraged to pursue this by her professor. It reinforces how important research and academia are in finding breakthroughs and scientific discovery. The second thing is that some discoveries are not that complex and we should be encouraged when something like this happens.

In and of itself, this isn’t earth-shattering news because it should be pointed out it isn’t a cure for Alzheimer’s. It is, however, good news about early detection.

The other takeaway from this is that the peanut butter test isn’t costly, which is important for small clinics. While confirmation would be needed after the test, the peanut butter test certainly would be helpful in early detection.

“At the moment, we can use this test to confirm diagnosis,” Stamps said. “But we plan to study patients with mild cognitive impairment to see if this test might be used to predict which patients are going to get Alzheimer’s disease.”

Imagine being able to determine which patients would get Alzheimer’s. The further down the road we get to finding a cure, the more valuable that information would become.

We have a long way to go in the study of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia but any steps forward are good signs. What this test shows is that as we continue to research diseases of all kinds, we need to be open to the possibilities; we need to encourage researchers to look for the answers.

This test was for early detection, which doesn’t eliminate Alzheimer’s, but it does help us better understand the disease. It’s that way with all research, the more we know the more we can help.

Knowledge is power, and hopefully someday that power can help find a cure for all diseases.

Steve Murch can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5686. Follow Steve on Twitter at sm_alpenanews. Read his blog, Pardon, Me But … at