Nothing beats the smell of a delicious meal… and now researchers have found an obesity link between those who are overweight and have a heightened sense of smell for food than the rest of us.
With obesity rates reaching epidemic numbers in both the U.S. melissmell and Great Britain, experts have been searching for any underlying cause that might be encouraging us all to eat so much more. And smell affects how we interpret food – the majority of what we think of as taste comes from our sense of smell.
Experts know that our noses are not just organs of smell, but of taste as well. In fact, the taste buds can only distinguish four qualities, sweet, sour, bitterness and salt. All other tastes are detected by the receptors high up in the nasal passages.
As you chew, odor molecules from the ground up food float up into your nasal cavity to an area about the size of a postage stamp that’s covered with five to six million microscopic nerve cells capable of detecting different smells. The mechanism is much like a lock (the nerve cell) and a key (the molecule) itself.
If you’re still doubting the power of smell over what you eat… think about this: would you really eat the entire tub of greasy, lukewarm movie theater popcorn if it weren’t for the smell?
The research team decided to study the idea that a skewed sense of smell might play a role in the rising numbers of overweight and obese people.
The researchers asked 64 volunteers to take part in a series of tests to check their ability to smell. Subjects had a better sense of smell for non-food odors when they were hungry, but were better at smelling food after eating.
Why can we smell food better when full? The experts suspect it might be the body’s natural way of detecting and rejecting foods no longer needed. A built in mechanism to keep us from eating more than we should.
Taking the results one step further, the team found that those with a higher BMI had a poorer sense of smell for non-food smells and a greater sensitivity to food smells. This especially keen sense of smell might have these people continuing to eat, even when they are full. The research suggests that smell might play a far more active role in food intake than we ever thought possible.
Interesting that women consistently outperform men on all tests of smelling ability, and that newborns are highly sensitive to some important smells. Interestingly, smoking doesn’t always affect our sense of smell, even though it is widely believed to reduce the sensitivity to smells… especially the smell of smoke.
Humans can distinguish between 4,000 to 10,000 different smells, a rather poor show compared to the animal kingdom, and the ability declines with age. How well you’ll retain your sense of smell in your later years depends on your physical and mental health, despite research that claims the ability to smell starts to go downhill very early in life.