“Would you pay $100 to double your sense of smell?” I asked my partner, “No, I could spend it on food instead.”
A question I asked him while trying to come up with a reason why anyone would be interested in bettering their sense of smell.
Here’s one I came up with; Did you know that if you lost your sense of smell, you’re more likely to die in the next 5 years than if you got cancer? Interesting huh? But more on that later, first, here’s:
3 TIPS FOR A BETTER SNIFFER!!!
When I was younger I used to sit in awe watching my Dad sniff out an unopened bag of Pineapple Lumps. Pineapple Lumps: An anatomically thin layer of chocolate replicate covering a chewy synthetic yellow tar mmm mmm (I’m realising now, after having written about marmite in a previous blog that a lot of kiwi treats resemble tar in one way or another).They were his favourite sweet, and trying to hide them from him before Father’s day was impossible; *knock* *knock* “Dinners ready, Zoe. Come sit…” *sniff*…*sniff, sniff* and just like that that gig was up. In fact, despite his fiendish love for pineapple lumps, they were not a candy that we had in our house very often, purely because all house democracy went out the window as soon as that yellow bag was carried over the threshold. “Can I please just have one, Dad?” my six year old, big blue eyed, pig-tailed self would look up and ask. There wasn’t even an attempt at an alternative, like; ‘there’s apples in the fridge’, no, I recall the reply being similar to that of Gollum after acquiring the ring for the first time in centuries.
Now, that is a good sense of smell, I thought to myself, let’s work up to that. So here goes.
Step 1: Dwell on the smell
Have you ever thought about how a sound can be too loud, no matter the sound, but a smell can’t be? It can be strong, but the smell of crap will always be the smell of crap, no matter how distant. So, what’s the equivalent?
The equivalent is our sensitivity to a specific odour. Our noses have receptors that code for specific smells. Over time us humans have developed receptors that fit very well with odours we have particular interest in. An example of a smell that we are very sensitive to is mercaptan. This is the smell put into natural gas so that we can detect a gas leak. It takes only one part per billion, even less than that, for us to actually detect that smell.
Now, odour molecules don’t always fit a receptor so perfectly and an imperfect fit or a combination leads to confusion of what it is. But if you pay more attention to smells and try to describe them and name them you will be able to identify that smell later.
Although, this is easier said than done. We can discern 1 trillion different smells but our language for them is pretty stink. Where you would describe an object you see by its size, shape, colour, texture or a noise by its tone, pitch and volume, a smell can only be likened to another. So get smelling and get remembering.
Step 2: Get Close
Unlike a truffle pig or a blood hound, our noses hang around in the middle of the sky, nowhere near the smelliest things, so, get yow nose all up in that smells grill. Smells drift in the air but mostly smell molecules cling to their source. Bring what you’re smelling up to you nose. You’ll be in the smells vicinity. But smell is also carried better in warm humidity (that’s why farts smell so much in the shower, or why you might have a better sense of smell after exercise, because you have more moisture in your nose), so the closer you get, the more the smell is heated by your breath.
Step 3: Take big sniffs
As you’re getting your face right up into those two peanut butter jars that you bought on a 2 for 1 special; wanting to know what ‘reduced salt’ smells like compared to the normal one (it smells bland as hell by the way). You’re dwelling on the smell and describing the differences, but make sure not to take too many sniffs. Make them count. Your olfactory receptors are located at the top of your nose. When you breath normally, the smell molecules don’t reach your receptors as well as strong, short sharp sniffs. But your smell receptors are best at smelling new smells. After a couple of sniffs the receptors turn off temporarily, this is called olfactory fatigue. So put on your cockiest wine tasting face and take a couple short sharp sniffs at that peanut butter.
And there you have it. Three top tips to a better sniffer. With your new smell tricks you might now be able to pick up on the subtle differences between the bolognaise your boyfriend always cooks for you; oooh, this time he bought the Dolmio pasta sauce instead of the generic brand, how fancy. And if you can smell the difference, count yourself lucky. Olfaction (sense of smell) is strongly linked to many diverse physiological processes. A couple of years ago researchers found people aged 60 and above that had an inability to perceive odour (known as having anosmia) were more than four times as likely to die in five years compared to those with a healthy sense of smell. Comparing other factors of their health at the same time, the study found that smell was such a strong indicator of approaching death, that it was even more reliable than other known predictors of death like nutrition, cognitive function, mental health, smoking, alcohol abuse, or frailty. It was so reliable in fact that it predicted death better than a diagnosis of cancer, heart failure, or lung disease.
So remember to smell while the smelling’s good. And if you can’t. It might be time to start ticking that bucket list off.
Das, S. et al (2011). Plasticity of local GABAergic interneurons drives olfactory habituation. Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences, 108(36), E646-E654. http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1106411108
Nimmermark, S., & Gustafsson, G. (2017). Influence of Temperature, Humidity and Ventilation Rate on the Release of Odour and Ammonia in a Floor Housing System for Laying Hens. Ecommons.cornell.edu. Retrieved 26 March 2017, from https://ecommons.cornell.edu/handle/1813/10423
Pinto, J. et al(2014). Olfactory Dysfunction Predicts 5-Year Mortality in Older Adults. Plos ONE, 9(10), e107541. http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0107541
Size of Smell Sense? | The Naked Scientists. (2017). Thenakedscientists.com. Retrieved 26 March 2017, from https://www.thenakedscientists.com/articles/questions/size-smell-sense
Sobel, N. et al (2017). Sniffing and smelling: separate subsystems in the human olfactory cortex. Nature 392, 282-286 (19 March 1998) | Doi:10.1038/32654; Received 25 August 1997; Accepted 9 December 1997.