Health News Review

CBS News online actually asked whether a scoop of peanut butter and a ruler could become the “elusive”…”single..definitive test” that could determine whether a person has Alzheimer’s disease.

I was away when this was published, but Ivan Oransky was all over it on MedPageToday.com.  Excerpts of his analysis:

Reading CBS News’s headline, “Cheap Alzheimer’s Test Made From Peanut Butter and Ruler, Researchers Report,” reminded me of the old adage “Fast, good, or cheap: Pick two.”

A couple things made me wonder just how much of an advance this was:

  • The study was small, fewer than 100 people all together, divided into four groups ranging from probable Alzheimer’s to healthy controls.
  • The journal — which is not exactly a core clinical title — is ranked in the bottom third of neuroscience journals by Thomson Scientific’s impact factor, 162 out of 252. Wouldn’t the researchers have tried for a more prestigious, and clinical, journal first?

So we asked a range of Alzheimer’s researchers what they thought. Here’s a sampling:

Richard Caselli, MD, of the Mayo Clinic, Scottsdale: “I don’t think anyone will feel comfortable diagnosing AD on the basis of a smell test.”

Samuel Gandy, of Mount Sinai School of Medicine: “Smell tests for dementia screening have been proposed for years, but the lack of specificity has repeatedly undone the early claims. Ditto for eye tests. This might be the exception, but I would urge caution pending independent replication on larger numbers and diversities of subjects.”

George Bartzokis, MD, UCLA: “Do not dismiss the study. What is new here is simply what they used to test it out — peanut butter. The principal problem with smell tests is that they are nonspecific and therefore only one small piece of the diagnostic puzzle. Not only can you have some congestion in your nasal cavities that can reduce your smell on a temporary basis but a past head trauma, severe past sinus infections, etc. can do so on a permanent basis. Individuals may not even remember these past events or be aware of current sinus problems that could interfere with their ability to smell.”

I wouldn’t suggest that anyone dismiss the study. But I would suggest that they dismiss much of the news coverage of the study.  Sampling of other headlines:

But the NPR Shots blog headlined it,  Why A Peanut Butter Test For Alzheimer’s Might Be Too Simple.

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Comments

Christina Medvescek posted on October 14, 2013 at 11:27 am

Keep up the good work — your coverage is essential to efforts to keep real journalism on track