The Power of Smell

The Power of Smell

Have you ever thought about how important your nose is, or rather, how important your sense of smell is? Did you know that of all the human senses, the olfactory sense has the most powerful impact on emotions because it has direct access to the limbic system, also known as the “emotional” part of the brain? 

In my opinion, the nose is the most underrated sensory organ of the human body. It is the first sense that develops in utero, and studies have demonstrated that the human fetus can detect and record odor information derived from maternal intake. We use the nose to smell danger, to connect to our environment, to communicate chemically, and to bring back memories and information. Yet, we don’t give enough credit to the olfactory sense, perhaps because smells are always processed unconsciously in the limbic system. Although the sense of smell has been utilized and appreciated for thousands of years of human history, it has only been within the past few decades that researchers have begun serious studies on the olfactory system. In fact, the most notable accomplishment in recent years occurred in 2004 when some of the basic mechanisms of the sense of smell were uncovered by Richard Axel and Linda Buck who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their findings. 

So why does the sense of smell have such a strong impact on the emotions? If I go into the nitty gritty details on the physiology, I might lose your interest (unless you’re also a total nose-nerd like me), so I’m going to simplify it as much as possible:

  1. The nose can be divided into two parts: the olfactory and the respiratory parts. 
  2. The olfactory part is made up of the upper portion of the central section of the nasal cavity.
  3. Olfactory epithelium is the specialized tissue inside the nasal cavity that is involved in the sense of smell.
  4. The epithelium contains over 3~5 million olfactory receptor cells in each nostril.
  5. The olfactory receptor cells are chemoreceptors, and they relay chemical signals to the limbic system (the primitive, “emotional” part of the brain), starting with the amygdala. 
  6. The olfactory system is the ONLY sensory organ that has direct access into the limbic system.
  7. The olfactory nerves project directly into the amygdala (process center for emotions)  without any mediation from the thalamus (the “relay” station of the brain).

There! That’s the most simplified, shortest explanation of why and how smell affects us emotionally! 

This is why at Madison + Green, we focus on creating healing tools that use the inhalation method. 

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