#75 Smell your way to a lower blood pressure (64+ ways to lower blood pressure)

I recently came across a book (Scentsational Weight Loss by Dr Alan Hirsch, 1997) that claimed you could reduce your weight by smelling your food and sniffing scents. My first thought was that this was not likely, or probably a very minor effect, as human’s have a poor sense of smell. I also have a certain scepticalness of aromatherapy in general – burning candles to cure disease doesn’t seem too likely to me. But, being open minded, I read the book. Dr. Hirsch, began with a puzzle, he noticed that patients that through disease or accidents lost their sense of smell, often gained substantial weight quickly, and if their smell was restored, they typically lost it just as fast. What does smell have to do with the body’s process for maintaining weight? Dr. Hirsch asked … What exactly causes us to think we have eaten enough, and to leave the table? Is it blood sugar? Is it fullness of the stomach? Is it psychological? Is it some other mechanism?

He created a hypothesis that odor impact is one of the many factors acting on hungry satiety. One hypothesis, is that if you lose your sense of smell, food just tastes tasteless, and you just stop eating as much because it isn’t as satisfying. Clearly that hypothesis is wrong, because folks that lost their sense of smell quickly gained weight – instead of losing it.

Dr. Hirsch however, noted that our bodies has elaborate method for sucking air up from where we chewing to ensure that food is good, not spoiled, and that perhaps something about smelling food, acted on the brain to produce satiety. Smell unlike say vision, and hearing, tends to wire directly into our limbic brain, in manner that we respond to smell but tend to have low consciousness of odor’s effects on us. Studies had shown for example that folks are sexually attracted to other folks based on genetic differences/similarities reflected in odors that we can’t even consciously detect. So, subtle chemical smells appear to have large behavioural impacts, could they also control eating? Patients that lost sense of smell gained weight, but really nothing else had changed for them, they still eating the same food, in the same social circle, eating at the same rate, etc. It appeared that smell must be strong, perhaps even dominant factor in satiety.

Dr. Hirsch came up with a new hypothesis, that amount of “smell” we experience during a meal is the first trigger that the brain uses to tell how much food we have ingested. Such a hypothesis would have a number of observable impacts. If food had more odor ( was warmer say), or if it was chewed more fully, and carefully, or if it was prepared in such a way as to have more smell, it should in theory therefore result in lower food consumption, and perhaps a lowering of the body weight. He also noted that some observers had noted that folks that smelled good food, perhaps during baking and so on, at first experience a hunger spike but if they continue they continue to smell the odor for extended period of time, say 20 minutes or more, the hunger sensation diminishes, so that after an hour or two some folks lose their sense of hunger completely. Smell is one of the few senses that doesn’t exhaust, it doesn’t diminish substantially on continual exposure, salty food tastes salty even if you just had some salty food a few moments before. Could it be that their brains were being fooled into thinking that they had eaten by odors -when they had not?

Based on these notions, he began experiments including some double blind experiments, using various kinds of odors, having patients smell them before, and after eating, or when they were hungry. Some these studies looked at the amount folks ate before they became full. Other experiments involved patients with serious body weight problems. The results startled him, folks started losing on average about 5 pounds per month, and some folks lost even faster going from being overweight to underweight in just a few months. This result was extremely unusual because almost all diets results in the body fighting back, it becomes harder and harder to loss weight the less you eat, and longer you try to keep it up. The rebound effect from dieting is also well known.

Eventually this work lead him to experiment not just with folks using puffers with various odors but also additives you can sprinkle on top of food to bring out more of the flavor or aroma or to provide a brain stimulating aroma for food with little such odor in itself. One can see that there are all kinds of factors to consider, the effect of different odors (are some more effective than others?), does a particular odor remain effective forever or does it wear off in time and so on? Indeed, it appears humans are hardwired for variety, if we smell the same food smells eventually the body appears to lose potency to provide sense of satiety. Dr. Hirach suggests that we shouldn’t eat too many kinds of food in a meal, because each new odor seems to simulate a new hunger cycle. It better therefore to pig out on one food that to attend a banquet with many foods. Further, it seems to suggest that if we eat nothing but a particular food for days on end, that it may lose it ability to provide satiety. Based on some extensive testing, a protocol has been developed that is marketed today in product called Sensa that involves using a flavor enhancing powder (or providing powder) that one sprinkles on solid food to increase the flavor (“smell”) component. See the link below. The powders come in variety of flavors that need to be changed each month to provide the same effect. Clinical studies show that this protocol and product works although the mechanism by which it works is not yet well understood. I haven’t tried the product and it seems kind of expensive to me… but it may be option for those desperate to get pounds off.

The secret here is that by fully smelling our food, maximizing the odor impact of each bite we reach a point of satiety with less food. Is this due to just slowing down of our eating, or does it have something to do with the smelling of the food? Dr. Hirach would say that it has to do with the smelling of the food, not solely a timing effect, although, other factors than smell do play a role in food satiety, including perhaps the amount of time we been eating – and other biochemical changes induced by taking food into the body. Body weight is one of the big factors in high blood pressure, if you can reach and maintain a healthy body weight that is great start. Aromatherapy also suggest that since smell impacts limbic  system directly that some odors may have the power to change blood pressure. Research along this line hasn’t been done yet to my knowledge but it is promising new idea to pursue. It could be that some sort of “smelling salts” or something may soon allow us to sniff our blood pressure down.



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