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Do You Remember That Smell? Smell and Memory are Intertwined

Posted by Sue Serre on

I've always associated the Back to School season with the smell of my mom's chili sauce. Every September she would cook up batches of it and for me these two things seemingly unrelated things are forever inseparable in my memory. Memory and smell are intertwined. Did you know that smell is the only fully developed sense a fetus has in the womb, and it’s the one that is the most developed in a child through the age of around 10 when sight takes over? When we smell, odors take a direct route to the limbic system, including the amygdala and the hippocampus, the regions related to emotion and memory.

Smell and taste are also linked - just think of a time when you've had a bad cold and couldn't breathe through your nose! When you chew, molecules in the food make their way back retro-nasally to your nasal epithelium, so basically all of what you consider flavor is smell. This is why memories of Christmases past come flooding back to me when I eat my mom's stuffing or my grandma's shortbread cookies!

Zinc is the mineral involved in our sense of taste. This information became mainstream as a result of COVID19. Many people lost their sense of taste and smell. Zinc deficiency is well known to cause anosmia (the loss of smell) and taste dysfunction (parosmia). Parosmia is a distorted sense of smell; something that smells good now smells bad eg. roses smell like burnt rubber. This is because one of the enzymes critical to maintain taste and smell function is zinc dependent.

There is good news for those who have anosmia or parosmia. The cranial nerve #1 (the Olfactory nerve) due to the brain's neuroplasticity can regenerate but can take up to 6 months. Smell Training has been used to help people regain their sense of smell. In one particular study , smelling at least 4 different odors twice daily for 15 seconds each time (such as eucalyptus, lemon, rose, cinnamon, lavender, thyme, strawberry and coffee) resulted in improved and corrected sense of smell over the course of several months. It seems that exercising our 'smell muscle' can help to recalibrate our sense of smell!

While smell and taste can anchor us to a particular time, person or memory (think of cologne or perfume) and since we're on the topic of memory; I thought I would include some supplements that have been shown to be effective in helping to improve memory - particularly for those with age-related memory loss:

Ginkgo: Is an antioxidant that protects the brain while also increasing micro-circulation improving oxygen transport. Many studies have been done that show ginkgo is helpful in improving memory, reducing the effects of head injury, improving concentration and the transmission of nerve signals.

Phosphatidylserine: Is a fatty substance found in the brain called a phospholipid. It covers and protects the cells in your brain and carries messages between them. Phosphatidylserine plays an important role in keeping your mind and memory sharp.

Acetyl-l carnitine: Because it is able to pass the blood-brain barrier it is able to exert neuroprotective effects in the brain. It can improve cognitive performance and mood by protecting against oxidative stress and reducing or blocking the neuronal death that occurs with dementia and other neurodegenerative conditions.

Why not create some new memories and relive some old ones with your choices of holiday smells and tastes this coming holiday season?