I was interested to read recently of a recently developed diagnostic tool for doctors – the artificial nose. Scientists at Strathclyde University have come up with a device that has the ability to detect odours characteristic of a variety of medical conditions. Learning of this new-fangled gadget reminded me of a story my mother once told me regarding a doctor with whom she had worked back in 1950s. Her colleague, a surgeon by trade, was renowned for his ability to accurately diagnose internal cancer on the basis of a physical examination. This skill, he maintained, was based less on what he saw and felt, and more by the smell emanating from his patient. This anecdote provides does seems to provide some support for the notion that it is possible to sniff out illness.
The fact that some doctors appear to have a nose for disease got me thinking about the significant number of individuals I see in practice who complain of a loss of their sense of smell. As odour detection is an intrinsic part of our sense of taste, individuals who experience a decline in their nasal ability will usually find that their ability to savour and enjoy food has waned too. Rarely, impaired sense of smell – the medical term for which is hyposmia – is the result of damage (e.g. by trauma or a tumour) to the so-called olfactory nerve that sends smell signals to the brain. However, more often, hyposmia is related to factors that may respond to a nutritional approach.
One of the chief causes of hyposmia is congestion in the membranes in the nose that contain the smell-sensitive nerve endings. Often, such congestion and a tendency to snotty build-up are related to the consumption of what may be referred to as ‘mucous-forming’ foods. I find dairy products such as milk, cheese, yoghurt and ice cream are generally the worst offenders here, and those prone to nasal stuffiness might benefit from eschewing these for a few days to see what effect this has. Should this help clear congestion and improve sense of smell, the reintroduction of foods, one-by-one, back into the diet can help to identify which specific foods are the problem.
Another nutritionally-related cause for hyposmia is a deficiency in the mineral zinc. Infections are believed to place a particular drain on the body’s stores of zinc, which may help explain why some individuals find their sense of smell is noticeably impaired after a bout of cold or flu. Those keen to boost zinc levels in their body can find this mineral in foods such as oysters, lentils, sunflower seeds and pecan nuts. In addition, I recommend individuals supplement with 30 mg of zinc each for three or four months. Should this help restore sense of smell, it is a good idea for individuals to continue supplementation with a multivitamin and mineral which contains at least 7 mg of zinc each day. my experience is that that these natural approaches can be very effective in helping individuals pick up the scent.