Bad news, foodies. You know the pleasure you get from catching a whiff of freshly baked buttery croissants, barbecuing brisket, or bacon sizzling in a pan? Apparently, enjoying the aromas of these and other foods could be making you gain weight. New research from UC Berkley found a correlation between the sense of smell and the way the body burns fat.
In the study, researchers looked at three groups of mice. One group had a normal sense of smell, one group had a blocked sense of smell, and one group had a heightened sense of smell. The mice were fed equal quantities of the same high-fat diet and maintained the same level of energy.
The mice with a normal sense of smell doubled their weight, while the mice with a heightened sense of smell gained even more weight. On the other hand, mice whose sense of smell had been blocked only gained 10 percent of their weight. Obese mice who couldn’t smell anything actually trimmed down while eating the same fatty diet.
The findings suggest smelling food before eating may influence the body to store fat rather than burn it off. One of the researchers, Céline Riera, suggests:
“…if we manipulate olfactory inputs we can actually alter how the brain perceives energy balance, and how the brain regulates energy balance.”
So what does that mean for us? Researchers believe temporarily wiping out a human’s sense of smell may aid in weight loss. Our sense of smell decreases naturally once we finish eating. In theory, by removing someone’s sense of smell, we might be able to trick the brain into thinking its already eaten and lead the body to burn fat rather than store it.
Temporarily wiping out your sense of smell comes with drawbacks, however. According to Riera, “People that don’t have a sense of smell can get depressed, because the sense of smell is very important for behavior.”
Andrew Dillin, another researcher, hopes we can harness the benefits without having to give up our sense of smell even briefly. As Dillin says, “If we can validate this in humans, perhaps we can actually make a drug that doesn’t interfere with smell but still blocks that metabolic circuitry. That would be amazing.”