This Common Habit Isn’t Just Gross—It May Cause Dementia, New Study Says

Dementia is more than a specific disease, it’s an umbrella term encompassing several different conditions…

Dementia is more than a specific disease, it’s an umbrella term encompassing several different conditions that impair your ability to remember, think, and make decisions. Currently, 55 million people around the world have dementia, and this number is expected to grow by 10 million each year, reports the World Health Organization (WHO).

While 73 percent of Americans living with dementia are age 75 or older, you can begin taking steps to prevent this neurodegenerative condition at any age by kicking certain unhealthy habits. Now, a shocking new study reveals that one rather disgusting habit (that, to be honest, most of us are guilty of on occasion) can spike your risk of Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia.

Read on to discover what it is, so you can stop doing it and keep your brain in good shape for years to come.

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Multiple studies show that several lifestyle habits are crucial in supporting cognitive health and lowering your risk of developing dementia. To keep your mind sharp and reduce your dementia risk, the four best habits you can implement into your daily life are regular physical activity, mental stimulation, social engagement, and good nutrition. All of these help protect your aging brain and may delay or prevent the onset of dementia.

If healthy lifestyle habits support proper brain function as you age, it should be no surprise that poor lifestyle habits can lead to cognitive decline and increase your dementia risk. Several factors, including smoking, drinking alcohol, not getting enough sleep, poor nutrition, social isolation, and lack of exercise can contribute to a higher risk of declining mental faculties. While these unhealthy habits are well-established risk factors for dementia, other, lesser-known habits can increase your risk.

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Middle aged man picking his nose driving a car.
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According to a Feb. 2022 study published in Scientific Reports, picking your nose can increase your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

Specifically, the study found that the bacterial strain Chlamydia pneumoniae—a harmful pathogen linked to respiratory infections, including pneumonia—uses your nasal passages as a pathway to enter your body. Your brain cells respond to this bacterial invasion by depositing amyloid beta protein, a toxic compound regularly found in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s. This protein clumps together to form plaques that collect between neurons and disrupt cell function.

James St. John, PhD, the study’s co-author and head of the Clem Jones Centre for Neurobiology and Stem Cell Research, said in a press release, “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.”

Man Picking His Nose
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Besides being unsanitary, digging for gold damages the inside lining of your nose. This damage allows bacteria to bypass the blood-brain barrier, a filtering mechanism that blocks the passage of certain substances from entering your brain. Additionally, plucking or trimming nose hairs can increase your dementia risk. Nose hairs are natural filters that help block bacteria, allergens, and dust from entering your lungs and brain—meaning that picking your nose and plucking, trimming, or pulling nose hairs has serious health consequences you may not realize.

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“Nose hairs are the first line of defense in keeping pathogens away. They’re designed to keep away acute sicknesses, such as colds and other respiratory viruses,” explains Laura Purdy, MD, a board-certified family physician in Fort Benning, Georgia. “Regardless of the presence or absence of nose hairs, it’s more picking of the nose and exposing the bloodstream to the bacteria that live in the respiratory tract that could potentially increase your risk of Alzheimer’s disease.”

Nose and Brain Diagram
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Since the study was based on animal models, further research is required to determine the impact of damaged nasal passages and nose hairs on dementia risk. “We need to do this study in humans and confirm whether the same pathway operates in the same way,” St. John said. “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.”