‘Smelly’ trick to boost your fat-burning metabolism

Someone presents a roast dinner with baked potatoes and vegetables smothered in gravy…

You smell the delicious aroma and your mouth begins to salivate in anticipation of the divine experience.

That’s because your sense of smell is integral to tasting food.

Think back to a time when you had a cold with a blocked nose. Rather than being able to taste flavors, all you could experience was the food’s texture and sensation in your mouth.

Your sense of smell changes when you’re hungry, causing you to strongly react to satisfying aromas and triggering your desire to reach for food. In fact, even when you’re not hungry, a decadent aroma from something delicious can entice you to eat anyway — and, let’s face it, with food all around us, the temptations are hard to resist!

But one thing you’ve probably never stopped to think about, is that your sense of smell could influence your entire metabolism…

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Less smell, less fat

You’ve likely always believed that the calories you eat are responsible for weight gain or weight loss. You cut calories, you lose weight — that’s a pretty commonly touted equation.

But as it turns out, how you perceive those calories might be even more important in determining how your body burns (or stores) fat.

In a new discovery, researchers used gene therapy to remove the sense of smell from one group of animals and found that those who lost their sense of smell experienced some astounding metabolic changes, including…

  • Increased energy expenditure
  • Increased fat burning capacity
  • Enhanced nervous system function
  • Reduced risk of insulin resistance
  • And reduced abdominal fat gain — aka obesity!

Quite amazingly, the subcutaneous fat cells, the type that you carry on your thighs, butt and middle, completely transformed from dormant beige fat cells to super fast-burning brown fat cells.

The changes were remarkable: the obese animals that were on their way to diabetes had completely reversed metabolism, becoming lean machines and restoring glucose tolerance back to normal.

Sure, the researchers discovered that the loss of smell leads to a loss of appetite, so, of course, there’s less enthusiasm to enjoy food. And because of this, the mice’s hormonal satiety signals were also highly satisfied. After eating some food, the animals simply got back to other activities.

But the most interesting discovery was that while both groups of animals ate the same amount of food — both given a high-fat diet — the animals without smell lost a substantial amount of weight, while the animals with their sense of smell ballooned to double their size!

Can it work for you?

The researchers discovered there is a strong relationship between the ability to smell and the sympathetic nervous system — the main controller of cellular metabolism. If your smell is present (or not) it triggers the nervous system and brain circuits responsible for regulating your entire metabolism, but it does so in completely different ways — all based on sense of smell.

This means blocking smell could be the next weight loss intervention…

Researchers suggest that if they can prove the same effects in humans they may develop a drug that blocks the ability to smell, as a way to reprogram metabolism.

Could you live six months without the sense of smell? As a way to reset metabolism and lose weight, no doubt many would love to give it a try.

While drugs may not be the solution, because they always have their side effects, perhaps pinching your nose could do the trick?

Sounds like a funny idea but you never know, it might just work!

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  1. Riera CE, et al. The Sense of Smell Impacts Metabolic Health and Obesity. — Cell Metabolism 2017;26:198–211.
  2. Smelling your food makes you fat — (2017). ScienceDaily.com. Retrieved 18 July, 2017.
Jedha Dening

By Jedha Dening

Jedha Dening is a qualified nutritionist (MNutr), researcher, author, freelance writer, and founder of type 2 diabetic nutrition site Diabetes Meal Plans. Her masters thesis on nutrition and inflammation was published and then presented at a national scientific conference. She has millions of words published in the health industry across various print and online publications. Having been in the field for over 15 years, she’s incredibly passionate about delving into the latest research to share the myths and truths surrounding nutrition and health. She believes when armed with the right knowledge, we’re empowered to make informed choices that can truly make a difference.