The Impact of Smell, Beyond Aromatherapy (The 5 Senses Journey)

In This Article

Sense of Smell

Since the 1920s, the scientific community has said that humans could only distinguish around 10,000 different odors, but new research suggests that number is way off.

New science suggests the human nose can detect one trillion different odors—talk about smelling the flowers! (1) Scroll down for a chart of essential oils for each season and body type!

Our sense of smell is directly linked to the emotional centers of the brain via the olfactory bulb, located directly above the nasal cavity. (2,3) The olfactory bulb links to the limbic system, a more primitive part of the brain and a major player in our survival that is associated with our emotions, memory, and behavior, to name a few of its many functions. (4-6)

Making Sense of Smell

We are able to glean invaluable information about our environment through our sense of smell.

Our sense of smell helps us detect danger and fear. (7,8) It also enables us to distinguish positive emotions such as joy, love, and happiness. (9)

Smell tests have found that we are able to discern the age of a person based on scent alone! (10)

Further studies have shown that both children and adults are relatively accurate in their assessment of others’ neuroticism based on body odor, while body odor allows adults to recognize dominance in social stature. (11) The nose knows!

Our sense of smell affects all areas of life, including partner selection, daily food intake, hygiene, how we perceive danger, digestion, motor skills, memory, learning, emotions, and sexual performance. Our sense of smell has been found to be most effective from adolescence to middle age. (12-16)

According to zoologist and author Michael Stoddart, humans possess very dense skin concentrations of scent glands—more dense than almost any other mammal! (17,18) Secretions from the apocrine glands on our bodies contribute to human body odor and, interestingly, these same secretions feed the microbes on our skin. (18)

If humans have more scent glands than almost any other mammal, and secretions from these glands feed our microbes, and microbes affect genes which exchange sensory information from our environment, could it be that our skin as I mentioned in the touch article, is actually our primary tool for health and evolution?

The Impact of Smell

In one study, participants sniffed neutral smells and were then given an anxiety-producing stimulus.  After this stressor, the neutral smells were rated as “unpleasant” and took longer to detect. This shows that stress, emotion, and negative stimuli can influence how we perceive smell, and that stress decreases our sensitivity to our environment. (19)

Smell has a huge impact on our health and social behavior. A malfunctioning sense of smell has been scientifically linked with decreased quality of life, depression, brain degeneration, obesity, and decreased levels of nutrition. (20)

People born without a sense of smell have been shown to have increased social insecurity. Specifically, men lacking a sense of smell reported to have less romantic relationships, and women lacking the ability to smell reported feeling less secure about their partner. (21)

The Ayurvedic Perspective

Ayurveda promotes practices of intranasal care and keeping our nasal passages and sense of smell in optimal condition. Namely, the dynamic duo, neti and nasya.

Neti is a nasal irrigation technique that uses saline to decrease nasal secretions and rinse and de-congest the sinuses. Neti is usually immediately followed by nasya, which is the nasal inhalation of herbalized oils into the sinuses. Nasya lubricates the sinuses to protect from dryness.

Modern research confirms that these ancient practices keep the internal skin of our nasal passages and our sense of smell in tip-top shape! (22-25)

Creating an environment full of pleasant aromas and flowers is part of what Ayurveda calls a sattvic—or harmonious—environment. Science has shown that the smell of fresh roses actually activates our parasympathetic nervous system and increases comfort. (26) This creates an atmosphere where the mind, body, and spirit feel safe to relax. It is when we are relaxed that the body dedicates its energy to healing and rejuvenating.

For thousands of years, Ayurveda’s ancient wisdom has been teaching us how to care for the internal skin of the nose and nasal passage and now, modern science is coming through to confirm! Stay tuned for the rest of the articles in this series, The 5 Senses Journey.

>>> Learn more about nasya and neti here

Seasonal Aromas for each Body Type
Winter (VATA)Summer (PITTA)Spring (KAPHA)TRI-DOSHIC
Basil
Fennel
Marjoram
Orange
Geranium
Bergamot
Benzoin
Cardamom
Cinnamon
Sandalwood
Lavender
Lemon
Ylang Ylang
Chamomile
Peppermint
Fennel
Rose
Neroli
Melissa
Rosemary
Eucalyptus
Camphor
Frankincense
Clary Sage
Juniper
Myrrh
Black Pepper
Clove
Rose
Jasmine
Lavender
Sandalwood
Frankincense
Melissa
Ginger
Fennel

References

  1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24653035
  2. http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/1998-07250-005
  3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK11158/
  4. https://www.dartmouth.edu/~rswenson/NeuroSci/chapter_9.html
  5. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23850593
  6. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12061500
  7. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23855495
  8. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16095694
  9. http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2015/04/10/0956797614566318.abstract
  10. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3364187/
  11. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23894217
  12. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18726864
  13. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3850926
  14. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6635476
  15. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24280062
  16. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9929668
  17. Stoddart, Michael. The Scented Ape. Cambridge University Press, 1991.
  18. https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200910/the-smell-love
  19. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24068799
  20. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21086527
  21. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23178326
  22. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7956408
  23. http://www.med.umich.edu/opm/newspage/2007/sinus.htm
  24. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11458213
  25. http://www.ayujournal.org/article.asp?issn=0974-8520;year=2009;volume=30;issue=2;spage=188;epage=193;aulast=Bhakti;type=0
  26. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25055057

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