Your sense of smell is one of your greatest assets when it comes to your natural health. You may not realize it but scent not only helps you to enjoy life more, it enhances your well being. If you lose your sense of smell, it may affect your quality of life, in addition to affecting some of your other senses, such as taste (source). Here’s some reasons why scent is important and how scent affects your health.
Smell and Taste
Olfaction, otherwise known as the sense of smell, is not fully understood by scientists but what is known is that it is the only sense with a direct link to the brain. The sense of smell is connected to the sense of taste. The nose is capable of detecting a lot more smells than the ear can in sounds; the nose is also capable of detecting over 10,000 different types of smells (source: Aromatherapy: An A-Z, Patricia Davis). Up to 90% of what you taste is actually smell (source: Essential Chemistry for Aromatherapy, Sue Clarke).
How Scent Enters Your Body
Simply put, your nose inhales a specific smell, chemically converts it and then passes that information to your brain. Electrochemical messages are sent to the appropriate part of the brain, triggering the release of neuro-chemicals and causing subsequent effects. Of course, the whole process is a lot more complex than it sounds – but offset that against the fact that it happens in a matter of seconds and you can see what an amazing process it is!
Importance of Smell
Your sense of smell allows you to identify the fragrance of a flower or an aroma of your favorite food; certain smells trigger memories of a specific, time, place or person (although this also includes negative memories as well as positive ones). Your sense of smell can also help you identify danger; for example, fire. A loss of your sense of smell can also alter your perception of taste. Therefore, losing your sense of smell is a significant loss in your life.
Causes of Smell Disorders
Some people lose their sense of smell, either permanently or temporarily. Smell disorders can be caused by a number of factors; these include:
- respiratory infections
- dental problems
- nervous system disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease
- polyps in nasal cavities
- head injuries (frontal lobe)
- hormonal imbalances
- solvent and insecticide exposure
How Aromatherapy Uses Scent to Benefit Your Health
One of the most common natural health practices that utilizes your sense of smell to improve your well-being is aromatherapy. Although aromatherapy works in a couple of ways, the quickest way in which essential oils (the aromas of plants which are used in the practice of aromatherapy) access the body is through the nose (through inhalation).
Inhalation is also one of the most effective ways to treat emotional problems in aromatherapy (source: Aromatherapy for Health Professionals, Shirley Price, Len Price). This is probably why many people associate the practice of aromatherapy with the treatment of stress, depression and anxiety. Although the scope of aromatherapy practice is much wider than this, it is is true that many essential oils are suitable for relieving the symptoms associated with emotional problems. Essential oils that are used to treat emotional health issues include:
- clary sage
- ylang ylang.
Smell, Scents and Your Health
As an aromatherapist, I am well aware of the power that scent has on your health. In fact, since I started working with essential oils, my own sense of smell has become more acutely aware of the difference between “good” smells and “bad” smells. Exposure to synthetic fragrances and highly chemicalized products often induces nausea and headaches in me.
Although scientists have yet to understand the full complexity of of how our sense of smell works, there is little doubt that our sense of smell enhances our well being and alerts us to the dangers in the environment around us. Next time you inhale the aroma of a rose in your garden, or the smell of freshly baking bread, stop and consider for a moment what your world (and your health) would be like without one of your greatest senses.
Photo by Dennis Wong