Sense of Smell Predicts Longevity

smelling a rose photo

We need our sense of smell, we have since the caveman days. Whether it’s smelling a fire or a field of wildflowers–our olfactory system is tied to our basic longevity, according to a study published in the journal PLOS One. An ineffective sense of smell is in fact a predictor of death.

Researchers used data from the National Social, Life, Health and Aging Project to test a nationally represented sample of 3,005 men and women ages 57-85 on their ability to smell strong scents including rose, leather, orange, fish, and peppermint. Participants used Sniff in Sticks, devices that resemble a felt-tip pen but are loaded with aromas.

The studycontrolled for factors including age, sex, socioeconomic status, smoking, alcohol intake, education, body mass index, race, hypertension, diabetes, heart attack, stroke, and diet.

“We think loss of the sense of smell is like the canary in the coal mine,” said the study’s lead author Jayant M. Pinto, MD, an associate professor of surgery at the University of Chicago who specializes in the genetics and treatment of olfactory and sinus disease, reported on Science Daily. “It doesn’t directly cause death, but it’s a harbinger, an early warning that something has gone badly wrong, that damage has been done. Our findings could provide a useful clinical test, a quick and inexpensive way to identify patients most at risk.”

In all, 39 percent of study subjects who failed the simple smelling test died within five years compared to 19 percent of those with moderate smell loss and 10 percent of those with a healthy sense of smell.

“This evolutionarily ancient special sense may signal a key mechanism that affects human longevity,” noted Martha K. McClintock, PhD, the David Lee Shillinglaw Distinguished Service Professor of Psychology, who has studied olfactory and pheromonal communication throughout her career, reported on Science Daily.

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Image: Kai Hendry