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Does disease smell?

Does disease smell?
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Many diseases and conditions have their own “breathprint,” and this may soon pave the way for earlier detection and diagnosis.

Body odour can be a sign of more than just someone forgetting to put on their deodorant. Researchers have long known that certain illnesses including cancer, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease cast particular odours, says Alan Hirsch, MD, the Neurological Director of the Smell & Taste Research and Treatment Foundation in Chicago.

While scent tests to diagnose disease are not quite ready for prime time, research is ongoing, says Dr. Hirsch, also the author of several books including Nutrition and Sensation.

Why do diseases smell?

Why do diseases smell?
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Diseases change the way a body works, says Yehuda Zeiri, PhD, a biomedical engineer at Ben-Gurion University’s Kiryat Bergman Campus in Be’er-Sheva, Israel. “When disease leads to enhancement of new and different biochemical processes in the body, these processes may lead to the production of small volatile molecules,” he explains. “These [molecules] can be transported by the blood to the lungs and be released in exhaled breath; they can also be released in the urine and sweat.”

Is ‘old person’ smell real? Find out the answers to 13 strange body facts you’ve always wondered about.

Diagnosing diseases through smell

Diagnosing diseases through smell
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Researchers are developing ways to detect the scent of disease. “According to the scientific literature there is evidence that the scent may contain markers for lung cancer, breast cancer, diabetes, melanoma and more,” Dr. Zeiri says. In the future, doctors may be able to spot cancer, diabetes, kidney disease and a host of other conditions solely by their smell – and well before other symptoms show up. Read on for some of the conditions that doctors can now – or will soon – detect by smell…

Preeclampsia

Preeclampsia
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Pregnancy-related high blood pressure – preeclampsia – is an early warning sign of deadly eclampsia, which is why it’s so important to spot the condition early. A study in a 2016 issue of Advanced Materials Science showed that researchers could detect preeclampsia with 84 percent accuracy based on a mother’s “breathprint” – like your fingerprint, your breath contains unique markers that can reveal a lot about your health.

Check out these health ‘myths’ that turned out to be true.

Lung cancer

Lung cancer
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There is compelling research that indicates lung cancer can be detected by smell, Dr. Hirsch says. An invention called “NaNose” – a breathalyser-type device developed by an Israeli company – is up to 90 percent accurate at diagnosing lung cancer; the device detects a special “odour” emitted by the cancer cells. Doctors can use the same technology to identify Parkinson’s disease, other cancers, kidney failure, multiple sclerosis and Crohn’s disease – and the accuracy rate is at 86 percent, according to a study published in the journal ACS Nano.

Check out the 15 mind-blowing ways your body heals after you quit smoking.

Kidney failure

Kidney failure
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Ammonia on the breath is a sign of kidney failure. University of Illinois researchers have developed a disposable device that can detect the breathprint of kidney failure and potentially get people to a doctor sooner – when treatment will be more effective. “In the clinical setting, physicians use bulky instruments, basically the size of a big table, to detect and analyse these compounds. We want to hand out a cheap sensor chip to patients so they can use it and throw it away,” says professor Ying Diao, PhD, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Illinois, in a news release.

Find out what your hands reveal about the state of your kidneys… as well as other health conditions.

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Liver failure

Liver failure
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When your liver stops doing its job and processing toxins, contaminants will build up in your urine, perspiration, and even your breath – and the odour will be like raw fish.

Here are 9 other signs your liver could be in big trouble.

Multiple sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis
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MS is an autoimmune disease, where the body begins attacking its own central nervous system. The resulting nerve damage can cause numbness, tingling, and problems with vision and gait. The condition is most often diagnosed by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain or a “spinal tap,” but MS may also have its own distinct breathprint, according to a report in ACS Chemical Neuroscience. In the study, exhaled breath was collected from 146 people with MS and 58 people without this progressive disease – and researchers identified a clear pattern.

Find out the health myths that make doctors cringe.

Infectious disease

Infectious disease
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Worried that you should put some space between you and your spouse or a co-worker who might be coming down with the flu? Give ’em a sniff, according to a small study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In this study, participants could identify sick versus healthy people simply by smelling their body odour and looking at photographs of their faces for visual cues, such as skin pallor.

Find out the real reasons your cold and flu symptoms linger.

Gum disease

Gum disease
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If you have an infection in your gums, the bacteria releases waste products such as hydrogen sulfide, which smells like rotten eggs, explains Dr. Hirsch. “This smell tells us that the person has gum disease, a dental abscess, or poor oral hygiene,” he says. “The abscess could be hidden in a crevice that is hard to find on an X-ray, but the scent can encourage your dentist to look harder and order a panoramic X-rays to find the culprit.”

Along with gum disease, these are the common illnesses that have been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

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Please be advised that due to the current lockdown in the Philippines, Reader’s Digest magazine May issue will not be available at its regular on-sale date to our subscribers or through our retail channels in that region. We hope to have the issues available in early June, but this is dependent on when the lockdown restrictions are lifted. We sincerely apologise for this inconvenience. Thank you and stay safe!
– The Reader’s Digest team