Can your nose-picking habit increase risk of devastating brain disease?

Nose-picking damages the nasal lining making it easier for dangerous bacteria to enter the brain.

Can your nose-picking habit increase risk of devastating brain disease?
© Getty/ lolostock
Can your nose-picking habit increase risk of devastating brain disease?

How would you react if you knew that a common, and rather innocuous habit that most people engage in could actually make you more susceptible to developing dementia? Well, your reaction may not be far from that of many people who read some scary headlines suggesting a link between nose-picking and the risk of being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. However, a closer look at the study on which the verdict was based shows the headlines may have been a tad sensational.

Discover our latest podcast

Nose-picking and dementia?

Research from Griffith University in Queensland Australia, suggests that nose-picking may be more than an unpleasant habit. The findings, published in the Nature Scientific Reports indicates that nose-picking damages the nasal cavity in mice, making it easier for Chlamydia pneumoniae bacteria to enter the brain through the olfactory nerve.

A study conducted 15 years ago established that these bacteria were found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. Lead author of the Australian study, Professor James St John said:

We're the first to show that Chlamydia pneumoniae can go directly up the nose and into the brain where it can set off pathologies that look like Alzheimer's disease. We saw this happen in a mouse model, and the evidence is potentially scary for humans as well.
Getty/ Andrew Bret Wallis

Should you be worried?

According to the team, the olfactory nerve in the nose is directly exposed to air and offers a short pathway to the brain, one which bypasses the blood-brain barrier. It’s a route that viruses and bacteria have sniffed out as an easy one into the brain.

However, this research is limited in scope as the findings were based on studies conducted on mice. The team is planning the next phase of research and aim to prove the same pathway exists in humans.

We need to do this study in humans and confirm whether the same pathway operates in the same way. It’s research that has been proposed by many people, but not yet completed. What we do know is that these same bacteria are present in humans, but we haven’t worked out how they get there.

So, you might want to stop the unpleasant habit of nose-picking but not out of fear of it increasing your risk of getting dementia. At least until further research is done.

Sources used:

Daily Star: Picking your nose may increase your risk of dementia, says bombshell new medical study

Forbes News: Can Nose-Picking Raise Alzheimer’s Dementia Risk? Here’s What This Study Really Said

The Conversation: Does picking your nose really increase your risk of dementia?

Griffith University News: New research suggests nose picking could increase risk for Alzheimer’s and dementia

Medical News Today: Picking your nose may increase Alzheimer's, dementia risk

Dementia: These common foods can increase your risk Dementia: These common foods can increase your risk