The Perils Of Picking

Kids learn that they aren’t supposed to pick their noses at an early age, when their horrified mothers tell them it’s disgusting, ill-mannered behavior and they should stop doing it–right now! A recent study suggests that there is another potential reason to heed your mother’s edict: there could be a connection between damage to the internal tissues of the nostrils and dementia.

The study looked at the transmission of bacteria in mice and focused on Chlamydia pneumoniae, a form of bacteria that is common to mice and humans. That species of bacteria not only can cause pneumonia, as its name suggests, it also is found in many human brains that are afflicted with late-onset dementia. The study determined that the bacteria can travel quickly up the olfactory nerve that connects the mouse nasal cavity and brain to reach and infect the central nervous system and brain cells. The study also found that when the bacteria reached the mouse brains, the mice responded by creating amyloid-beta proteins to combat the infection–and amyloid beta protein clumps are typically found in humans suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease.

Moreover, the study showed that when there is damage to the nasal epithelium, the delicate membrane at the roof of the nasal cavity that separates it from the brain, the nerve infections get worse. And that’s where nose-picking–which can damage that protective layer of tissue between the nasal cavity and the brain–enters the picture.

We have a lot to learn about the causes of dementia, and studies of mice obviously don’t necessarily translate to humans. But if it’s even remotely possible that you can reduce your chances of developing dementia by refraining from self-inflicted nostril probes, it’s yet another reason to heed your Mom’s advice and keep your fingers away from your nose.