The sweet, ambrosial fragrance of pineapple is evocative and mouthwatering. Losing the ability to detect it would not only undermine one of life’s greatest taste experiences, it might foretell one of life’s greatest tragedies, the gradual debilitating loss of memory we’ve come to know as Alzheimer’s disease, research suggests.

The study, funded by the National Institute on Aging, was based upon a smell identification test which researchers have used to identify odors to help distinguish diagnostic groups – e.g., Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s — from control subjects.  Included are a wide array of scents, ranging from the pleasant to not so pleasant, such as cherry, licorice, cedar, pizza, turpentine, motor oil, etc.  In this investigation, 147 patients with mild cognitive impairment, along with 63 healthy, elderly volunteers, took the brief smell test, with an average follow-up of five years. The results linked a higher likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease with a waning ability to identify ten specific odors: menthol, cloves, leather, strawberry, lilac, pineapple, smoke, soap, natural gas and lemon. Clinically, the results of the smell test correlated with reductions in brain volumes as measured on MRI scans. Previous research has shown how nerve cells in olfactory-related areas of the brain manifest early in the course of Alzheimer’s disease.

Every 67 seconds someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s — an irreversible brain disease that progressively destroys memory and thinking skills, and eventually even the ability to carry out the simplest tasks. Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, killing more people than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.  A new theory among neuroscientists suggests that the same factors fueling the nation’s obesity crisis might lead to many more cases of Alzheimer’s disease in the coming years.  Conversely, things you can do to help maintain a healthy weight may also reduce Alzheimer’s risk, including:

  • Drink fruit & vegetable juice.
  • Walk one hour, three times a week.
  • Eat more than two cups of veggies a day.
  • Start cooking with curry.

Published May 1, 2014