How’s your sense of smell? 7 things you may not know about OLFACTION.
By Aromatherapist and Massage Therapist, Sonya Edmonds
As an aromatherapist I find olfaction – smell – fascinating, and it’s always at the forefront of my mind. But smell is often underestimated compared to our other senses such as sight and hearing. If asked to decide which sense you could do without, most people would say smell.
However, COVID has put our sense of smell into the spotlight. On my second and third day of COVID infection I realised I couldn’t smell the essential oil blend I had vaporising in my room. Fortunately, my smell returned within a week. But for many people this is not the case. Losing your sense of smell can have a profound impact on wellbeing. Just think of Michael Hutchence for example.
Here’s some facts about olfaction – our sense of smell – you may not be aware of:
- Olfaction, the sense of smell, is the most primitive of all the senses.
- The significant effects of smell on the brain are believed to be a remnant from early man’s fight for survival. Smell cells in the nose are linked to the limbic system, which in evolutionary terms is among the oldest parts of the brain.
- A substance needs to be volatile, i.e. in a gaseous state, for it to be smelled. Such as pure essential oils!
- Smell is the only sense in which the nerve endings are in direct contact with the outside world
- Our olfactory system has a direct link to various parts of the brain, such as the limbic system, and has a powerful influence on the central nervous system. Many studies have shown that different aromas can have an effect on mood, memory, stress levels, concentration and appetite.
- The interpretation of smell is closely related to our sense of taste, but a greater variety of chemicals can be detected by smell than taste.
- Our brain can identify smells we know in less than a second. A scent memory is a memory which is activated by a specific aroma. This is unique to each person and can produce a positive or negative effect dependent on the particular memory evoked.
- In women the sense of smell appears to be more accurate than in men and odours produce a greater degree of brain activation.
If you’d like to discover more about olfaction or smell training, I highly recommend Frauke Galia’s podcast An Aromatic Life. I was so pleased to hear her interviews with doctors and scientists who are recognising the importance of essential oil constituents as treatments in the recovery from COVID and for improving brain health.