There’s a woman in Scotland who claims to be able to smell Parkinson’s disease on somebody’s skin years before physical and mental symptoms appear. And her remarkable gift has inspired scientists in the UK to develop a new test that might help to diagnose problems beginning in brain tissue.

Let’s take a closer look…

Joy Milne is a Scottish woman who possess a remarkable sense of smell. Her nose can sniff out subtle odors that are undetectable to just about every other human on the planet.

Decades ago, her husband’s skin acquired what she considered a peculiar smell and she insisted he try to wash it off – even though he didn’t smell anything. But no amount of washing seemed to help.

Then, over the years, her husband, a doctor, experienced personality changes that strained the marriage. More than a decade later, it turned out that his problematic behavior was linked to Parkinson’s disease. Then, a few years after the diagnosis, the couple went to a Parkinson’s support group and Joy made an astonishing discovery…

All the other Parkinson’s patients had the peculiar smell that her husband had!

The Smell Test 

When Joy began contacting researchers about her ability to sniff out Parkinson’s disease, the scientists initially, and not surprisingly, brushed her off. But later, researcher Tilo Kunath, PhD, at the University of Edinburgh, after reading studies about dogs that could smell cancer, decided her ability was worth investigating.

To be sure that Joy’s ability to sniff out Parkinson’s was valid, researchers tested her olfactory claims by having her sniff t-shirts. Some belonged to people with Parkinson’s while others had been worn by people in normal health.

She correctly identified all the shirts belonging to people with Parkinson’s – with only a single mistake. One shirt she identified as from a Parkinson’s patient belonged to a man who didn’t have the disease.

But then, months later, it turned out that he did! Months later, that “mistake” proved to be prescient. Because that shirt owner, who had seemed to be in good health, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s – just as Joy’s nose had predicted.

Secretions Found On The Skin 

In studying what substances on the skin might indicate undetected Parkinson’s, researchers at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Manchester have focused on sebum, a waxy substance that the body uses to moisturize and protect the skin.

Sebum is secreted primarily on the upper back and forehead – areas where Joy found the Parkinson’s smell to be strongest. Plus, excessive production of sebum is a recognized symptom of Parkinson’s.

The team’s sebum analysis showed it contained eicosane, hippuric acid and octadecanal – compounds that indicate the dysfunctional levels of neurotransmitters found during Parkinson’s. In addition, they found other biomarkers of the condition.

Hope For The Future Of Detection And Treatment 

The researchers caution that they still have not definitively developed a standardized skin test that can be widely used to detect Parkinson’s, but they’re optimistic. For example, one of their latest published studies shows that “a simple skin swab from people with Parkinson’s reveals a difference in the composition of sebum compared to control subjects.”1

The researchers believe that this kind of test can be a key part of devising ways to fight more effectively against Parkinson’s.

“Imagine a society where you could detect such a devastating condition before it’s causing problems and then prevent the problems from even occurring,” says Dr. Kunath.

As further developments arise from the work on this test I’ll let you know. I will also post studies into other potential skin tests for various diseases. After all, Joy Milne also says she can sniff out diabetes, tuberculosis, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7952564/ 

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