Bible Verse of the Day

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

I smell you, I honestly smell you...


CLEOPATRA seduced Mark Antony amid heaps of rose petals, legend says. Ever since, people have perfumed themselves to attract; or at least to avoid; offending others. This year consumers will spend billions on scents to soothe, revitalize, provoke and excite.
Long dismissed as the basest of the five senses, smell may be the most powerful. Suddenly what Helen Keller called the “fallen angel” of the senses is the object of serious attention. In pinpointing how smell affects our minds and bodies, researchers are discovering that it exerts more influence over us than previously thought. There is an invisible universe at the tips of our noses: the scent of green apples may reduce the pain of migraines; barbecue smoke makes spaces seem smaller; mixed floral scents may spur people to buy tennis shoes and finish a maze faster; and sniffing banana, green apple or peppermint could help people lose weight. Scent may snare us well before birth. Research suggests we could be influenced by odours in utero, through scents absorbed by our mothers. Exposure to odorous compounds in the womb may make us more likely to find those scents attractive later on in life. Garlic lovers, thus, might be made, and then born.
Above our nasal cavity is the area responsible for smell - the olfactory epithelium. No bigger than a postage stamp, it contains millions of receptor cells that end in cilia swimming in a layer of mucus. Not much is known about these cells’ function, and the process through which we perceive and recognize odours is a mystery.
First, to have an odour, a substance must be volatile enough to give off its molecules. We can’t smell marble and glass, for example. We can smell blue cheese.
Odour molecules waft into the nostrils on air currents. During normal breathing, only a fraction of air reaches the, top of the nasal cavity. That’s why when we’re trying to smell something; we sniff which sets off mini-tornadoes in the nose, whisking more odour molecules past the receptor cells. These delicate fronds of the brain then fire messages that arrive in other parts of the brain.

Smell is directly wired to the limbic system - one of the oldest parts of the brain in the evolutionary sense, and the part that loves, lusts, rages and remembers. Because of that, a whiff of a scent from the past can bring forth a flood of feelings and memories. In neurons and synapses lies the truth of Rudyard Kipling’s words: “Smells are surer than sounds or sights to make your heartstrings crack.”***

While humans can distinguish an estimated 10 000 different scents, compared with the olfactory abilities of dogs we are watching black-and-white sets in a digital l.e.d. colour-television world. Bloodhounds, it is believed, track humans from traces of odour in the sweat that seeps through our shoes and in the tiny flakes of dead skin we leave behind us.

Few activities require more precise work of the human nose than wine-tasting, which might more accurately be called wine-smelling. Like “noses” in the perfume industry, great wine-tasters are prodigies of olfaction. Flavours are really just in-mouth scents; we taste only sweet, sour, salty and bitter on our tongues. Everything else we consider taste is actually smell, and most food aromas reach the nasal cavity from the back of the throat in a process called retro-nasal olfaction. A simple test: eat some gourmet jelly beans while holding your nose. They’ll all taste alike. If food seems to lose its flavour when you have a cold, it’s because you’ve temporarily lost your sense of smell. Among the reasons: mucus or swollen nasal membranes block the narrow entrance to the top of the nasal cavity.
In surveys asking people what sense they’d choose to live without, most pick smell. Yet the loss of this sense, anosmia, can create unforeseen dangers. The condition is commonly caused by head trauma. Should the olfactory nerve be severed in an accident, we would fail to detect the smell the smoke of a fire, sour milk or gas leaking from a stove.

Scents are starting to seep into all corners of our lives. In recent years the concept of aromatherapy has blossomed, with everyone from beauty salons and spas to cosmetics giants getting in on the act. Based on the idea that the essential oils of plants have specific healing properties, aromatherapy dates back to ancient Egypt and India. The term is confusing because the oils don’t have to be directly inhaled: they can be diffused through a room, massaged into the body or added to a hot bath. Rose oil is supposed to fight viral infections, calm the nerves and stimulate sexual desire. Tea-tree oil from Australia is said to heal wounds and open the respiratory passages. Fennel may tone mature skin.

Science is trying to sort through the lore. But businesses have long used scents to entice us to buy - fanning the aroma of fresh-baked biscuits throughout a bakery or spraying “new car” smell in old clunkers. What’s known as “environmental fragrancing” is more sophisticated. This approach is big in Japan. There companies commonly use scent-distribution systems to increase worker productivity and relieve stress: citrus scents are used to energize, peppermint to increase alertness and lavender to relax.
So far, research suggests that odours do influence moods. In studies doctors found that a vanilla-like scent reduced anxiety in patients undergoing MRI scans. But was it the vanilla itself or its associations with baking and other comforting images? The smell revolution certainly will continue. And in the future, scents could wake us up, make us alert at the office, help us eat less and set the mood for romance. As long as we’re breathing, we can’t help smelling. So go on – SMELL!
Aren't God's creations just wonderfully marvelous!
*** The very thought of you brings back your taste - or is it your smell? Love you ~ SB