Restoring your sense of smell after standard cancer treatment can seem like a complicated task. In this article I explain how your sense of smell is connected to your brain and what you can do to re-establish this connection.
Your sense of smell is directly connected to your brain through the olfactory region of the upper part of the nasal cavity. Inside your nose there is a region called the epithelial plate that contains olfactory receptors. Olfactory receptors are the nerves that tell the brain what something smells like. There are millions of receptors inside the nose that detect thousands of biochemicals which activate a multitude of scents.
These receptors detect the aromatic biochemicals that are contained in your food. The odors released during preparation of food and cooking are actually bio-chemicals that your nose receives on this minuscule plate just below the brain. When the nerve receptors receive the chemicals, they react by sending impulses that begin the process of digestion.
This means that food aromas actually stimulate appetite and digestion.
For example: when a lemon is sliced, it releases the oils in the peel that helps your brain determine that a lemon has just been cut. The same thing with garlic, onion, ginger, and other herbs. Actually, all foods elicit biochemical combinations which enhance the flavor through your ability to smell them. Taste and smell are intricately related. Try holding your nose when tasting something. Usually the flavor is dramatically reduced or non-existent. That is how powerfully connected the sense of smell is to taste.
What Happens When You Can’t Smell?
When pungent elements are added to your meals, the olfactory nerves are stimulated and you experience the sensation of smell while the food is in your mouth. This in turn triggers hormones to be released that tell the salivary glands to secrete saliva to begin the process of digestion.
Hydrochloric acid is also secreted into the stomach when certain odors are detected. These are part of the mechanisms that control digestion.
But what happens if you have a cold or your sinuses are blocked? If you can’t smell anything, generally it is difficult to taste the food, which in turn reduces the desire to eat. This is because the body is not receiving the hormonal stimuli to get the digestive processes going, and without that the body does not really “want” food. You get the idea that you are not really hungry. But when you say, “I’m not hungry” and then you smell the food cooking, all of a sudden you realize that you are hungry.
Why? Because the hormones have been released to tell the brain to activate the hunger center in the hypothalamus (one of the hormone centers in the brain for food related activities).
The Best Foods for Blocked Sinuses
In the instance of blocked sinuses, it is helpful to consume hot chili peppers, ginger, or other pungent foods and spices. The bio-chemicals intrinsic to these spices cause the mucous membranes to drain. Once the inflammation and mucus is removed, then the sense of smell is restored.
If the olfactory nerves have been damaged significantly you can lose your appetite and your sense of taste and smell. This can affect your digestion, and emotionally you do not enjoy your food so you don’t want to eat. For cancer patients this can be dangerous. Because even if you don’t want to eat, your body needs the nutrients to run all its bio-systems efficiently.
Lipoic acid is effective in restoring damaged nerve tissue, and its antioxidant components repair free radical damage.
Viral Infections Can Cause Loss of Smell
Viral infections can also cause problems with the ability to smell. Often times during cancer treatments the body suffers from viral infections because the immune system is weakened. This is partly why many patients, after undergoing standard cancer treatments, lose their sense of smell. Often this leads to loss of appetite as well.
Using Lipoic Acid to Reactivate the Sense of Smell
Lipoic acid is known for its stimulating effects on smell. Thus, one option is to consume certain spices and food combinations with sufficient lipoic acid in them. Some of these include: Brussels sprouts, broccoli, spinach, tomato, garlic, and cayenne pepper.
Omega-3 fatty acid foods such as cod, salmon, or mackerel are also effective. Plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids such as chia, walnuts, hemp seeds, flax seeds, and marine phytoplankton are also great options. These plant-based counterparts are more easily digestible and help reduce inflammation, thus draining mucus.
Zinc-rich foods such as pumpkin seeds and flax seeds are also high in lipoic acid. All these foods help to stimulate smell.
German researchers discovered that lipoic acid restored the sense of smell in most of their subjects. Some were anosmia which is a complete loss of smell. This demonstrates the powerful impact of this compound. Therefore, adding a lipoic acid supplement to your daily regimen could also be very effective. But consult your physician first before adding supplements to make sure they won’t interfere with your treatment protocol.
Recipe for Restoring Sense of Smell: Spinach Tomato Soup
Have you ever experienced a loss of smell due to cancer treatments or other conditions? What tips, foods, or recipes helped you? Please share in the Comments section below.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in January 2017. It has been updated and republished in January 2020.
Restoring your sense of smell after standard cancer treatment can seem like a complicated task.
There are millions of receptors inside the nose that detect thousands of biochemicals, which activate a multitude of scents.
When the nerve receptors receive the chemicals, they react by sending impulses that begin the process of digestion.
Food aromas actually stimulate appetite and digestion.
If you can’t smell anything, generally it is difficult to taste the food, which reduces the desire to eat.
Lipoic acid is known for its stimulating effects on smell.
Foods high in lipoic acid include:
- Brussels sprouts
- Cayenne pepper
- Pumpkin & flax seeds