We all know how transporting smell memories can be – the whiff of someone’s perfume as they pass by immediately propelling you to another time, place or person you associate it with. It has long been known our sense of smell is the strongest link to unlocking these memories, but new research has only just revealed why…
An international team of scientists, led by Christina Zelano from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, used neuroimaging and intercranial electrophysiology to discover why certain areas of the brain, such as the hippocampus, are more strongly linked with smell than any other sense. According to a report on the science news website New Atlas:
‘This new research is the first to rigorously compare functional pathways connecting different human sensory systems with the hippocampus. The striking findings reveal our olfactory pathways connect more strongly with the hippocampus than any other sense.’
‘During evolution,’ Zelano explains, ‘humans experienced a profound expansion of the neocortex that re-organised access to memory networks.’ Basically put, all other senses got re-routed as sections of our brains expanded, but smell remained intrinsically (and directly) connected to the hippocampus. Or as Zelano more scientifically puts it: ‘Vision, hearing and touch all re-routed in the brain as the neocortex expanded, connecting with the hippocampus through an intermediary-association cortex-rather than directly. Our data suggests olfaction did not undergo this re-routing, and instead retained direct access to the hippocampus.’
While this is, of course, fascinating; perhaps the more practical outcome of this, and other continuing research, is a reaffirmation of how important our sense of smell is to our wellbeing, and impacts on our every day lives even more than was previously assumed. Indeed, the discoveries of links between our sense of smell and depression (and how scent might be used in the future to treat it), has been significantly highlighted because of Covid-19 cases often suffering with anosmia (a lack of smell) and parosmia (a distorted sense of smell).
You can read more about anosmia and parosmia on our website by searching for those terms, and also in Louise Woollam’s piece about how devastating it was to lose her sense of smell as a fragrance blogger. It’s a subject Louise wrote about so movingly, again, more recently for our magazine, The Scented Letter: Perfume’s Bright Future edition. VIP Subscribers receive this magazine FREE, but you can also buy print copies, here, or purchase an International Online Subscription at only £20 for a full year of fragrant reading.
Up to 80% of what we taste is actually relayed through smell, and a FREE cookbook, Taste & Flavour, has been written to help those who’ve lost their sense of smell following Covid…
When it first came to light that many of those people who’d had or were still suffering with Covid-19 were experiencing loss of taste and smell, Life Kitchen said, ‘our first thought was – what can we do to help?’ Having undertaken extensive research, and garnered the help of experts such as Professor Barry Smith, from the University of London, the anosmia (smell loss) charity Abscent, and Altered Eating; it was ‘discovered that Covid-related taste and smell loss has some distinctive features.’ These included people who ‘found they didn’t want to eat certain, quite common ingredients, including onions, garlic, meat and eggs,’ while additionally (and upsettingly), ‘certain foodstuffs seemed to trigger parosmia (changes to or distortion of the sense of smell), anosmia (loss of smell) and phantosmia (smelling something that isn’t there).’
The loss of smell (and therefore taste) has been devastating to those already suffering other symptoms and feeling isolated, and we’ve written several articles on anosmia and parosmia previously, including an explanation of the help Abscent can offer – with anosmic Louise Woolham writing a feature in our just-published edition of The Scented Letter magazine. The idea behind the book, the authors say, is to be ‘a collection of recipes, ideas and expertise to help you on your journey towards enjoying food again.’
As Life Kitchen comment, and we know from the reports of many post-Covid patients: ‘Any of these olfactory conditions can have a profound knock-on effect for physical and mental health.’ So, what to do for immediate and – most importantly – practical help if you’ve lost your sense of smell and can’t taste the food you once enjoyed…?
Ryan Riley and Kimberley Duke worked with the smell and taste experts, to produce this recipe and self-help book. And – SO generously – they’ve not only produced printed copies you can purchase on the website for only £3.00 to cover postage costs, but have made a digital copy FREE to download, so they can help even if you can’t afford the book right now, and no matter where you are in the world.
‘Using our five principles of taste and flavour – umami, smell, stimulating the trigeminal nerve (responsible for sensation in the face), texture, and layering flavour’ they explain, ‘we’ve taught over 1,000 people with cancer to enjoy food again. We wanted to apply these principles to create recipes for those people who have lost their senses of taste and smell as a result of Covid.‘
Taste & Flavour: A cookbook to inspire those experiencing changes in taste and smell as a result of Covid by Ryan Riley & Kimberley Duke
Oh sweet heavens, how we need something to help uplift our spirits and keep us keeping on. If you’ve just about reached the end of your rope, we’ve some fragrant ways to tie a knot in it and help you hang on…
Incredibly, we’re heading for the one year anniversary of the first offical #lockdown in the U.K, and while in some ways it has seemed like wading through treacle, in others barely a day seems to have passed.
We mark the days not in encounters and newness, but with calendars full of red slashes: the things we didn’t do, the people we’ve not seen (perhaps for all of that time), the trips we’ve cancelled and how few hugs we’ve had from loved ones, if any hugs were had at at all. But with the advent of vaccines and a better understanding of how we’re going to live with this virus, we are SO nearly seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
It’s not just whimsy and conjecture that fragrance can help in troubled times – your sense of smell is directly linked to emotions and memory, so wafts of a favourite scent throughout the day can be a perfumed pick-up for you, or worn as a fragrant shield against the world in general. And there’s research to back up those beliefs.
When you take a deep breath and inhale aroma molecules, they’re detected by the olfactory receptors in your nose and immediately stimulate the Limbic system – some of the deepest, oldest parts of the brain – in ways that we’re only just starting to understand.
Scientists have conducted studies on single aromas, like lavender, rosemary and vanillin, but not yet on more complex blends. For example, lemon (and other citrus notes) are often regarded as the most instantly upifting smells – they make us feel energised, somehow, and can smell like distilled sunshine in a bottle – but as with all smells, this does depend on the quality of the ingredient and personal preference.
It sounds simple, but it all comes down to finding out which fragrances make you feel happy. An easy way to find six new scents you might like is to use our Find a Fragrance tool – just type the name of a scent you love and the algorithym searches for fragrances with similar emotional characters.
Whatever your preference, we have no doubt there are perfumes out there to help you feel brighter, more alert and ready to face the day…
Shay & Blue Mermaid Kisses
The perfect pocket-sized pick me up, this is all swaying palm trees and wiggling your toes in warm sand as you drink that first holiday cockyail. If citrus doesn’t do it for you, try crispness and zing via apple and salty samphire sea lily atop luscious honeydew melon. You can practically feel the warmth on your skin and breathe a sigh of satisfaction from the very first spray. We recommend applying the second that clock hits 5pm, for a hit of hopefulness! £12.50 for 10ml eau de toilette shayandblue.com
Liz Earle Botanical Essence No.1
Sparkling fresh, this citrus scent with a rich floral heart is ‘perfect for spritzing any time your spirits need a boost,’ as they put it. It’s that sudden snapshot of summer memories, memories of laughing while dancing in a garden, the fizz of Champagne bubbles still on your lips, a warm breeze swirling rose petals at your feet. Spray whenever you need reminding that these better days will come again. £54 for 50ml eau de parfum uk.lizearle.com
Molton Brown Orange & Bergamot
Whisking you to the light-filled royal courtyards of Seville, bitter orange, sun-drenched bergamot and mandarin giggle into neroli and the cardamom-flecked, florist-shop freshness of galbanum; while ylang ylang is (unusually) found in the base, making for a giddily joyous landing. Wrapping cedar with flirty floral tendrils, the musky trail of sunshine-infused happiness surrounds you like a much-needed hug, which lasts even longer in this formulation. Plus, layer up the sunshine and try the scent in the matching bath & shower gel, also included in The Scented Retreat Discovery Box! £120 for 50ml eau de parfum moltonbrown.co.uk
Clarins Eau Dynamisante
A revolutionary fragrance and body treatment that was first launched in 1987, the invigorating aroma was unisex way before the word became trendy, and offers uplifting essences along with the promise of moisturising, firming and toning. Containing essential oils of lemon, patchouli, petit grain, ginseng and white tea, it leaves you feeling like you’ve just bounced out of a spa treatment. Book the appointment and splash this on at will as you countdown… £52 for 200ml eau de Cologne clarins.co.uk
La Montaña First Light Reed Diffuser
It isn’t only fragrances we wear that can lift our mood – scenting your home with something to give you a boost of happiness is another brilliant way to use scent in everyday life. We adore the freshly squeezed sparkle of citrus in this – delivered via candle or reed diffuser – along with a fresh, herbaceous breeze that altogether evokes the tendrils of sunshine, that kiss of dawn that wake you from a dream. Try the entire La Montaña home collection in mini room mists to find your most uplifting home scent within The Scented Retreat Discovery Box. £35 for 120ml reed diffuser lamontana.co.uk
The whole world has felt ambushed by COVID-19, but it’s only recently that experts have realised that the sense of smell is one of the first things to be attacked – well before any other symptoms present themselves. Now, IFF (International Flavors & Fragrance) have helped develop a smell-test to take at home, donating scents from their living technology collection to aid the testing process…
Scientists now agree that the loss of smell represents an early warning sign of Coronavirus. Anosmia (smell loss) and dysgeusia (taste loss) are extremely common symptoms that may appear before any other symptoms to suspect a patient might be infected. Researchers developing the pioneering (and self-administered) test say that ‘early awareness of exposure may trigger testing sooner and improve the overall accuracy of testing for COVID-19.’ And as we now know – the earlier a possible infection can be detected and the patient made aware, the fewer other members of the public could be infected.
‘IFF has a long history of developing innovative solutions for a multitude of global challenges,’ commented Dr. Gregory Yep, IFF’s Chief Scientific and Sustainability Officer. ‘Our ongoing collaboration with Dr. Albers underscores our commitment to do more good for people and planet, and I hope our donation can help contribute to a solution for this pandemic.’
The Blavatnik Sensory Disorders Fund at Harvard Medical School is enabling the building of apps that allow long-distance symptom tracking and smell testing from home, and up to 400 patients at MGH, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Spaulding Rehabiliation Hospital will be participating in their first round of testing.
After receiving a small and simple to use scratch card, the test will then be conducted on a patient’s own phone app (or via a tablet, or computer.) During the test, participants will answer a series of questions about possible COVID-19 symptoms and loss of smell and/or taste. By distributing this free smell test, the hopes are that presymptomatic detection of anosmia will trigger full testing and prompt patients to self-isolate – even if no other symptoms are present.
With the recent lowering of social distancing measures, many experts fear a second (and possibly even larger) spike in the numbers of new COVID-19 infections, it behoves us to be extra cautious and to be forewarned, as they say, is forearmed.
Dr. Mark Albers, an MGH neurologist specialising in memory and olfactory disorders, was one of the leading experts who wanted to set up the test, explaining that, ‘There is so much we don’t know about COVID-19, but the research shows that loss of smell and taste play a prominent role in identifying possible patients with the virus,’
‘If we can provide reliable self-administered tests to people and health care workers,’ Dr. Albers continued, ‘we may be able to slow the spread of the disease in the future and chart recovery of smell function, which may be helpful to determine when it is safe to reengage after having the COVID infection.’
Fascinating, isn’t it, how we are only now discovering how many medical conditions have early warning signs reflected in a loss of smell? Perhaps now, those scientists who were toiling away studying the sense of smell – which for so many years was disregarded as insignificant – will be taken more seriously; and (we hope – perhaps naively) will be given the funding they so desperately need.
Perfumer and brand founder Christophe Laudamiel has joined the Global Consortium for Chemosensory Research in calling attention to the loss of smell as a vital clue in the on-going fight against the Covid-19 virus.
‘An incredibly surprising twist to the pandemic is that a unique symptom of COVID-19, even among those who barely feel any other symptoms, is an abrupt and total loss of the sense of smell. That loss lasts for about a week and is scary enough for the public to realise the importance of their noses…’
As we previously reported back when #lockdown first began, this loss of smell is often the only symptom noticed, and it’s incredibly important to tell your doctor about this, and take actions, because otherwise you may be unwittingly spreading the virus.
Now, the scientific community are working together – and asking for YOUR help – to create a global database of anonymously submitted symptoms, so that the spread of all respitory illnesses / loss of smell type smptoms can be tracked. It is vital to have a global databse of this information for any true picture, and for work to be done on creating a possible vaccine or other preventative measures to be taken.
The Global Consortium consists of open-science contributors: transdisciplinary scientists, clinicians, and patient advocates from all over the world, and their advice is:
– If you lose your sense of smell, call your doctor and get tested. This will potentially save your life, and the lives of those near you.
Says Laudamiel: ‘The survey will take about ten minutes and is totally anonymous, hosted on an open Penn State University server and ccomplies to EU rules and global ethic standards.
English, Spanish, French, German and 6 other languages are available, 20 more languages to come very soon.
Please take it seriously. The results will be published and immediately utilised by health authorities, doctors, patients and olfactory workers worldwide.’
By taking just a few minutes to report any symptoms you have – you will be doing the whole world a favour. And apart from anything else, it will be fascinating for scientists to see how widespread the loss of of the sense of smell is on a global scale. This is an issue that’s been too long ignored or not taken particularly seriously, and those who have suffered smell loss can tell you how utterly devastating this can be, quite apart from the fact that smell loss is already recognised as a possible early warning sign of Alzheimers and now, known to be a symptom of Covid-19 too…
We know that there are many rumours swirling around the coronavirus, but we felt that this was worth circulating to a community which is highly tuned into its sense of smell.
Top ENT specialists have pinpointed loss of sense of smell – a.k.a. ‘anosmia’ – as a potential symptom of those carrying the Covid-19 virus, who are otherwise asymptomatic.
Previously, we were told to look out for symptoms such as a high fever and a new continuous, dry cough – and for people with those symptoms to self-isolate within their own homes. Scientists suspected, however, that the wide-spreading of the virus has, in part, been due to otherwise seemingly healthy people going out and about – unaware that they are carrying the virus and unwittingly infecting others.
The British Association of Otorhinolaryngology (ENT UK) published a statement that these anosmia symptoms had been found among ‘…a number of patients in the “absence of other symptoms”‘.
Professor Claire Hopkins, president of the British Rhinological Society, and Professor Nirmal Kumar, president of ENT UK, remarked in the joint statement, published online, that they’d noticed a significant and sudden rise ‘in cases of isolated anosmia’ — total or partial smell loss — in the UK, US, France and northern Italy.
The statement goes on to remark that they ‘…think these patients may be some of the hitherto hidden carriers that have facilitated the rapid spread of Covid-19,’ commenting that, ‘Unfortunately, these patients do not meet current criteria for testing or self isolation.’
As fragrance-lovers we are generally more in-tune with our noses and sense of smell than the majority of people, simply due to the fact we spend so much time focussing on scent, concentrating on how it smells. (And, of course, lavishly spraying ourselves in our favourites and describing them to others.) Therefore, we are perhaps in a better place to notice a loss of smell more immediately. And therefore – more importantly – to act on it.
Although current government guidelines on self-isolating with signs of coronavirus do not yet specifically mention the loss of smell as a symptom, it is worth pointing out that the advice DOES state that we should self-isolate and take extra precautions if you are displaying any symptoms at all, ‘however mild’.
What to do if you have recently lost your sense of smell:
As of last night, the government have enforced a complete ‘lockdown’ within the U.K. – a precaution that the French authorities undertook a week ago. Now that the ENT specialists have made the link between a loss of smell as a clue you may be a carrier of Covid-19, even if you don’t have a high temperature or a cough, if you live with other people,the advice is that you should take extra precations and self-isolate as much as possible within your own house.
Currently it seems the majority of those who did lose their sense of smell due to carrying the Covid-19 virus are reporting that they have fully recovered their sense of smell after around a month (much quicker in the case of one sufferer we know personally), though these are early days and much has still to be learned. Fifth Sense, a U.K. charity for those with smell and taste disorders, also have a useful article on their website regarding Covid-19 and the loss of smell.
Another source of contact for those who have lost their sense of smell – through a virus, due to medication or from birth – is the recently established charity AbScent which has lots of great advice on their website.
These are scary things to read, indeed, and of course worrying times for us all. But there is good news coming out of China, for those who are recovering and for whom life is slowly going back to (an albeit new) kind of normality. This has only been achieved by everyone working together, following the guidelines and self-isolating.
As difficult as this is, we CAN get through this together, and we shall emerge with a new sense of just how important it is to talk to our neighbours, to check in on the most vulnerable within our communities, and to grasp every moment of freedom and health with joy. Even if that’s only meeting a friend for coffee or going to an art gallery or literally stopping to smell the roses. How we shall treasure those moments anew when we can do them, freely, again.
Chrissi Kelly lost her sense of smell in 2012. She had no idea how seriously this would impact on her life – and how many people struggle with this on a daily basis. Since then, she’s launched AbScent and devoted her life to finding out more about the loss of smell, and developed Snif: a smell training app that’s a personal coach to re-building or enhancing the sense of smell…
Since the devastating loss of smell caused by a virus, Chrissi Kelly has been busy founding the charity AbScent, and supporting thousands of other people with smell loss through smell training. Having taken courses with Professor Thomas Hummel, the author of the first research paper on smell training at the University of Dresden, Germany; Chrissi used his tried and trusted techniques alongside specially devised ‘smell training kits’, which have significantly helped people to reconnect with their recovering sense of smell. Chrissi also speaks at conferences, runs workshops, online events and private sessions to support people with the condition. She’s a busy woman, indeed, and we were thrilled to join her at Jo Malone London‘s flagship Regent Street Store, recently, where they were kindly playing host to the official launch of AbScent.
Chrissi explained ‘the three pillars of smell training’ approach AbScent use to aid those with a loss of smell – be that from a head injury, illness, medication or even those who were born with what they perceive as no sense of smell at all. The message is, there is help out there, and there are active ways you can learn more, connect with others and improve your sense of smell with time.
You can also now use the online Snif App – to ‘guide and instruct users so that each smell training session is consistent and productive. Snif becomes a personal coach that takes the guesswork out of practicing, presenting a mindful and focussed way of tracking your development. Currently web-based, a native app is in the works.
‘Think of it as physiotherapy for your nose,’ AbScent explain. ‘The brain can rewire itself, but this is a slow process. Smell training is a commitment and it takes time. You will need to train for a minimum of four months, twice a day.’ That may seem like quite an undertaking, but when you realise how earth-shattering a loss of smell can be, it’s definitely worthwhile. ‘I’d say that pretty much everyone who has suffered loss of smell goes on to develop depression in varying forms,’ Chrissi told us.
Imagine not being able to smell your own child, your partner – yourself. Or wondering is a phantom burning smell is actually your house burning down – a loss of smell isn’t simply not being able to smell things as well/at all: it can come with a whole host of disturbing side-effects, such as all food and drink suddenly tasting foul (leading to eating disorders or malnutrition).
It can feel incredibly difficult to go to your doctor if you’re not sure how to describe your symptoms, or what they need to know. Be assured that the medical profession are now – thank goodness – taking smell loss seriously. And AbScent have made a guide to talking to your doctor, so you know exactly what to say. They even have a list of clinics to go for further help.
AbScent have also launched a Sense of Smell Project. ‘We are trying to learn more about what it is like to live with this condition and how people’s lives change as a result.’ By taking part in their survey and telling your story, you can help them get a clear overview of subjects that may have not been considered, in order to ‘develop healing strategies and better ways to support patients.’
We cannot applaud enough, the work that Chrissi and her AbScent team have done so far, and their aims of helping even more people who may well have been ignored – or not even taken their own loss of smell seriously – for so long. We also hope that other fragrance houses will join in the support. Smell loss can strike any one of us at any time, and if we all work together, what a world of sensorial discoveries we could uncover…
We’ve written about anosmia – the loss of the sense of smell – in the latest Love & Scents edition of The Scented Letter, with a moving article by fragrance blogger Louise Woollam about what happened to her when she developed various ‘smell disorders’ after a virus.
Next Friday (27th February) is actually Anosmia Awareness Day, and in advance of that Duncan Boak – who founded Fifth Senseafter he lost his own sense of smell – would like us all to take some time to think and imagine what it would be like to have your sense of smell taken away.
Then ask yourself: what would be your #LongLostSmell? Please tweet that – and they’ll be collated on Storify. (We’ll also be sharing these #LongLostSmelltweets in a future edition of The Scented Letter.) Just a few examples are featured below – and click on the hashtags here for the latest tweets…
You can Instagram a photo that evokes what you’d miss most, too.
To support Fifth Sense‘s work (which we at The Perfume Society are proud to do),donate here to help raise funds for future research into taste and smell disorders.
And now: close your eyes and imagine that #LongLostSmell…
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