Smell is an often overlooked sense, yet it is one of our most powerful. Many studies link a strong sense of smell with a better memory. And with stats showing that one person in the UK develops dementia every three minutes, smell is more important than you may think.
In this article you will learn:
- How smells trigger memories
- Ways to improve your sense of smell
- The benefits of a trained nose
Smells and memories
A smell can spontaneously transport you to a place from the past, or make you instantly recall a person or experience. But how do smells trigger such strong memories? What actually happens when you smell something?
“It goes into the part of the brain that manages memory and emotion – the limbic system,” explains Michelle Krell Kydd, a flavour and fragrance expert with a highly evolved sense of smell. “The second thing that happens is that the part of the brain that manages language, called the cerebral cortex kicks in. And that’s interesting because you feel and you remember first, then you have language.”
Another reason our smells are so connected to memories is that our bodies contain more receptors for smells than any other sense. This is why people with dementia seem to have a poor sense of smell and ability to identify smells.
There are lots of techniques that can help train our noses and enhance our sense of smell. Here are some of them:
- Boost your zinc levels – zinc produces an enzyme that’s crucial to smell and taste. Loss of smell is a classic sign of zinc deficiency.
- Get more exercise – research shows that the part of the brain that processes smell can be boosted with exercise. Exercising just once a week can help reduce the risk of losing your sense of smell.
- Sniff therapy – sniff three of four different scents, from fragrances to coffee, four to six times a day to help the nose receptors work better.
- Avoid bad smells – exposure to bad smells can lead to a complete loss of smell. If you can’t avoid them, wear a mask over your nose and mouth.
- Change the way you eat – eat only when you’re hungry as that’s when our sense of smell is strongest. Eat a different food with every forkful to stop your olfactory nerves getting bored.
The benefits of nose training
As well as improving our memory, exercising our sense of smell can keep us healthier in other ways.
A good sense of smell lets us detect danger, like a gas leak or a fire. Smell is connected to taste, so a trained nose can boost how we experience food. Studies have also linked depression to smell, with research finding that our sense of smell decreases when we are depressed.
With this in mind, perhaps it’s time we all pay more attention to the smells around us and nurture our noses?