Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that impacts the nervous system and limits a person’s range of movement, motor control, and cognition. The early symptoms of Parkinson’s are often so subtle that it usually takes a long time for people to notice that something is wrong.
For instance, one of the first symptoms of Parkinson’s - hyposmia - is not even related to movement or cognition. Hyposmia is the medical term for a reduced sense of smell. According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, “Hyposmia is an under-recognized symptom, as it is not a common concern for doctors to ask about or for patients to report.”
Although not everyone with Parkinson’s experiences hyposmia, it’s a symptom most patients have. In fact, the Parkinson's Foundation alerts that if you can't smell these 3 specific foods, you should get yourself checked for Parkinson's. Continue reading to learn about the foods in question.
Hyposmia and Parkinson’s Disease
Abruptly losing your sense of smell is a concerning experience. Many conditions, including COVID-19, sinusitis, and allergies can manifest themselves through anosmia. However, unlike anosmia, or the complete loss of the sense of smell, hyposmia can develop gradually, so it’s more difficult to recognize. At the same time, it’s an important symptom in the diagnosis of Parkinson’s because it can often show up months or years before other symptoms.
The reason why Parkinson’s patients experience hyposmia or anosmia is only partially understood. According to the European Parkinson's Disease Association, “it is related to the protein alpha-synuclein which clumps in the brain of people with Parkinson’s.” Studies show that alpha-synuclein first appeared in the olfactory bulb, which is the part of the brain responsible for the sense of smell. From the olfactory bulb, these alpha-synuclein clumps are said to migrate to other parts of the brain and may contribute to the development of Parkinson’s.
While many of us can have a reduced sensitivity to subtle smells, not being able to smell strong scents is a concerning symptom. actively test your ability to detect them. Three strong scents all healthy people can usually smell are dill pickles, licorice, and bananas.
If you experience hyposmia, you may also have a reduced appetite, have difficulty telling apart fresh foods from spoiled ones. The Parkinson’s Foundation suggests that those who cannot smell these three foods should talk to their doctor about Parkinson's. Those who have a higher risk of developing Parkinson's can even smell these strong-smelling foods occasionally as a way to test their sense of smell.
Is there anything to help hyposmia?
Unfortunately, there is no medication that can sharpen your sense of smell. Over time, your sense of smell will likely decrease or vanish completely if you have Parkinson's.
However, there is a way you can train your brain to strengthen your olfactory bulb. It’s called smell training. This training is simple enough and requires sniffing a few strong scents two or three times every day. These smells will stimulate the olfactory bulb and urge your brain to rebuild the neural connections responsible for the sense of smell. It usually takes a long time - months of training - to see results because neural connections take time to be restored.
Some Parkinson’s treatments, such as deep brain stimulation and surgery are also known to improve patients’ sense of smell.
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