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Memory Spring Monthly

Want To Improve Your Memory? Work on Your Sense of Smell!

What a Smell by Vikram Sorathia

The holiday season is almost upon us. Soon the air will be filled with all those wonderful smells that bring back so many memories. As a matter of fact, scientists have found that our memories are so connected to smells that odor evoked therapy can be a great tool for helping people improve their memory. 
According to Amanda White, psychiatry research technologist at Penn State College of Medicine, our sense of smell is closely linked with memory, probably more so than for any of our other senses.  People with full olfactory function are able to think of smells that evoke particular memories; the scent of an orchard in blossom conjuring up recollections of a childhood picnic, for example.  This often happens spontaneously, with a smell acting as a trigger in recalling a long-forgotten event or experience.  
The reason our memories and emotions are so connected to smell is that the nerves, impulses, and other brain structures (amygdale, hippocampus, etc.) are all part of our limbic system. Many scientists regard the limbic system as being the old, or primitive, part of the brain. These are the same structures that were present within the brains of the very first mammals.
Another reason that our memories are so connected to our sense of smell is because our body contains far more receptors for smells (at least 1,000) than it does for other senses, like sight (four) and touch (at least four). What this means is you can discern between many different types of smells, even those you may not have the words to describe, according to Dr. Joseph Mercola.  
Results from various studies that involved both older and younger adults showed that participants were able to recall more than twice as many memories when they were associated with an odor, which according to researchers provides “evidence for substantial olfactory cuing.” 
In addition, a recent study by the Mayo Clinic found that seniors who struggled with their sense of smell, were 2.2 times more likely to show signs of mild cognitive decline. According to the Wall Street Journal, researchers collected data on over 1,400 healthy seniors with an average age of 79 years old. Over the three and a half year study, 250 people developed mild memory problems and 64 people developed dementia. Seniors completed smell tests to include six food items and six non-food items.
Through the study, researchers noted that as the sense of smell declined, the likelihood of memory problems and Alzheimer’s increased. Lead researcher, Rosebud Roberts was encouraged by the study, stating “The findings suggest that doing a smell test may help identify elderly, mentally normal people who are likely to progress to develop memory problems or, if they have these problems, to progress to Alzheimer’s or dementia.”
Want to improve your sense of smell and recall? Here are a number of recommendations (from various physicians) on things that you can do to improve your sense of smell:
Check for zinc deficiency. Loss of smell is a classic sign of zinc deficiency. Zinc is an essential trace mineral (carbonic anhydrase (CA) VI) required to produce an enzyme critical to taste and smell. A good source of dietary zinc include meats, oysters and wild-caught fish, raw milk, raw cheese, beans, and yogurt or kefir made from raw milk. 
Exercise more. Research shows that the more you exercise, the less likely you are to develop problems with smelling as you age. Exercising even one time a week was found to reduce the risk of losing your sense of smell.
Pay more attention to what you already smell. People often say "use it or lose it" about muscles, but the same can be applied towards the senses. The more you use your senses, the better you get! Learn how to describe smells. You might even want to keep an olfactory journal! For extra practice, have someone hold various things to your nose while you're blindfolded and see if you can identify the smells.
Try “sniff therapy.” Choose three or four different scents, such as floral, fruity, and coffee. Sniff them four to six times a day, which will help the different receptors in your nose to work better.
Check the medicines you’re taking. Ask your doctor about their effect on smell and taste. Hundreds of medications affect taste and smell, including statins, antidepressants, high blood pressure medications, and chemotherapy drugs like methotrexate, also used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. If your meds are on the list, talk to your doctor about possible alternatives or lower doses.  Don’t, however, stop taking your medication or cut your dosage on your own.
Eliminate Smoking. Nothing screws up the smell receptors in your nose and the taste receptors on your tongue like cigarettes. Long-term smoking can even permanently damage the olfactory (a.k.a., sniffing) nerves in the back of your nose.
Eat only when you are hungry. Our sense of smell (and thus taste) is strongest when we’re hungriest.
Humidify your air in the winter. Our sense of smell is strongest in the summer and spring, says Dr. Alan Hirsch, M.D., neurological director of the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago. Hirsch, most likely because of the higher moisture content in the air.
Stay away from the diaper pail and other stinky smells. Prolonged exposure to bad smells (like the sewer plant up the road) tends to wipe out your ability to smell, says Dr. Hirsch. So if you must be exposed to such odors on a prolonged basis, wear a mask over your nose and mouth that filters out some of the bad smells.
Blow your nose and clean it out with saline spray. A simple thing, but it can help, because a blocked nose means blocked nerve receptors.
Chew thoroughly and slowly. This releases more flavor and extends the time that the food lingers in your mouth so it spends more time in contact with your taste buds. Even before you start chewing, stir your food around. This has the effect of aerating the molecules in the food, releasing more of their scent.
Stick to one glass of wine or beer. Dr. Hirsch’s research finds the sense of smell declines as blood alcohol levels rise.
Eat a different food with every forkful. Instead of eating the entire steak at once, then moving on to the potato, take a bite of steak, then a bite of potato, then a bite of spinach, etc. Recurrent new exposures to the scent will keep your olfactory nerves from getting bored, thus enhancing your taste buds.
Try some of these suggestions today.  You’ll improve your sense of smell, improve your recall, and regain memories you haven’t thought about in years.
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