Digging for gold might be cause for more concern than just your hygiene habits.
While the impolite act of picking your nose has often just been linked to uncleanliness, a new study says it's also linked to serious health issues — namely, a possible higher risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.
The researchers behind the study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Biomolecules and first reported by PEOPLE, state that the connection lies between external pathogens and the inflammation they can cause in the brain.
These external pathogens can be transferred from a person's fingers to their nose when they pick it, giving the microorganisms a direct route from the olfactory system to the brain.
This overgrowth of germs from the nasal cavity could cause unnoticed brain infections marked by inflammation, which activates the release of amyloid-beta proteins. These proteins can build up and clump together in the spaces between nerve cells, and this build up is believed to be a crucial contributor to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's.
Some risk factors — like age, genetics, and coexisting medical conditions — can't always be changed, but others like environment and lifestyle can potentially be improved to reduce the likelihood of developing Alzheimer's.
And while the study doesn't definitively state nose picking — called rhinotillexomania in medical terms — is a leading cause of Alzheimer's, it highlights the importance of noticing how germs are interacting with your immune system.
So it likely can't hurt to cut the habit, but if you can't, the researchers say frequent hand washing and the use of hand sanitizers should be "mandatory routine procedures for the incurable nose-picker."
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