Compared to our other senses, relatively little is known about our sense of smell. It is certainly the one most taken for granted. Though most of us rarely think about it, our sense of smell goes about its critical business of helping us in every facet of our lives.

In recent years, research and our understanding of olfaction (relating to the sense of smell) has increased dramatically. We find ourselves on the brink of a scent revolution that will use this sense to manage our emotions, allow early detection of diseases, treat a wide variety of psychological and physiological problems, assist in the ageing process and enhance our health and well being.

The brain processes information delivered through our sense of sight, sound, taste and touch by identifying the incoming information first, which in turn triggers an emotional reaction. But our sense of smell is different. It does the reverse. The information of incoming odors are first processed by the emotions and subsequently identified.

Aromas delivered directly to the smell receptors in our brain have a powerful effect on behavior. Just think of your response to the smell of a cup of coffee in the morning or your reaction to a dead skunk on the side of the road. Since birth, our smell receptors have catalogued every scent that passed through our nostrils. Our sense of smell is the seat of our emotions.

In 2004, the Nobel Prize for medicine was awarded to researchers Dr. Linda Buck and Dr. Richard Axel who discovered the genes and proteins that control the responses that result from this sense. They determined that we are able to recognize approximately 10,000 different odors, with each odor having the potential to evoke a memory.

Odors travel up the nose to a patch of nerve cells located above the eyes. From this olfactory bulb, smells go to the higher brain areas that are responsible for conscious discrimination and to the areas that control emotions. Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), highly detailed maps of metabolic activity in the brain have given researchers a deeper understanding of how the brain receives and processes olfactory information.

As further research identifies how odor is perceived, differentiated and transmitted, there is a growing opportunity for improving and intensifying our olfactory experiences. We will be able to manage and deliver odors to obtain the maximum beneficial effect we desire. Aromachology – the science of smell – is now firmly established in the field of medical research.

When applied to the health and wellness products of the future, consumers will reap the benefits of this research. Scents and fragrances will be more than a glamorous fashion accessory or statement of personal style; it will routinely be used to:

• Promote relaxation and reduce stress
• Improve work performance
• Elevate mood and reduce depression
• Modify sleep and dreams
• Enhance self-image
• Retrieve memories
• Enhance sexuality
• Improve social relationships

This new understanding of the psychological and physiological effects of scents will result in scientific and medical applications as well:

• Scents will be used to reduce anxiety during stressful medical testing such as MRIs.
• Assist people with weight loss by using aromas to control their food craving.
• Our ageing population, with a diminished sense of taste and smell, will be able to re-stimulate these functions with aromas.
• Scents will alleviate depression and mood swings during menopause.
• An infant’s ability to recognize and respond to smells may be used to diagnose potential learning disabilities later in life.
• Scents will be used to improve sexual well being and enhance performance.
• The use of aromachology in public spaces, such as airports, train stations, hotels and amusement parks, will enhance behavior and create a more positive environment.
• Virtual reality will allow you to see, hear, touch and smell the simulated adventure.

Without a doubt, our sense of smell will increasingly play a prominent and positive role in improving our daily lives and in expanding our sensory experiences in the 21st century.

Author's Bio: 

Luke Vorstermans is a freelance writer, business consultant and author of, Here We Come! How the Boomers Will Change Your Business.