Discover the Olfactory System
Taking care of your olfactory system is taking care of yourself
Our Sense of Smell
Whether it is enjoying a walk in the woods or the aroma of your morning coffee, our sense of smell immediately connects us to our environment and our sense of wellbeing. It is intimately tied to our memories, cognitive function, and helps us navigate the world around us.
The Chemistry of Olfaction
We are still in the midst of exciting scientific discoveries that shed new light on our olfactory system and the role it plays in our overall health. To summarize the basic process: when we smell different molecules, these chemicals activate the olfactory receptors. This jumpstarts a chain reaction of signals to our brain. Humans possess over 400 different olfactory receptors, and millions of olfactory receptor neurons, allowing us to detect and identify a vast galaxy of smells.
Olfaction is a Full Body Experience
Olfactory receptors, first discovered in the nasal passage, have an important role beyond odor detection - they also act as a family of chemoreceptors. These chemoreceptors have been discovered to exist throughout our body. They make up the largest subset of a family of proteins called G Protein coupled receptors found on the surface of cells, which allow these cells to sense what is happening around them and communicate. These receptors are targeted in about 40% of prescription drugs, an indicator of their potential for activation in other therapeutic applications. We are thrilled to watch this revolutionary research unfold and to explore new horizons of olfactory wellness.
Nourish Your Sense of Smell
Being mindful of the aromas around us can reinforce our sense of smell and can improve our overall health. Loss of smell has been linked to depression and can be a precursor of illness. Being aware of our sense of smell can help us be proactive in what could be a viral, neurodegenerative, or autoimmune disease. Studies have shown that as we age we lose our sense of smell - but actively developing our olfactory sense can help mitigate this loss. Just as sommeliers train their noses to interpret the richness of a particular wine, you too can train your sense of smell to make the most of the gifts of Mother Nature's botanical powerhouse of benefits. Begin smelling things with intention, take time to experience and process the aromas around you, and even keep a journal! Most importantly, enjoy the process - caring for our sense of smell is totally free of charge, but provides a wealth of benefits to our mental and physical wellness.
Our Olfactory Neurons are Unique!
- Pictured: Nasal lining, as seen in a colored scanning electron micrograph (SEM), showing olfactory cells (red) surrounded by numerous cilia (hair-like projections, blue). Photo courtesy of Steve Gschmeissner and the Nobel Foundation.
- Our olfactory sensory neurons are the only ones in our central nervous system to be exposed to the outside environment - making olfaction one of the most raw and direct of our senses.
- Olfactory neurons regenerate from weeks to months. This is the only place in the body where we are continually making new neuronal cells!
Did You Know?
Unlike our other senses, smell is not first processed by the thalamus - the brain’s switchboard, and the place where most of our senses are first processed. Instead when we smell, signals are transmitted to the olfactory bulbs and then to the olfactory cortex. Signals are relayed to the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for identification and cognitive function; the amygdala, the brain region that regulates emotion; and to the hippocampus, which is responsible for learning and memory recall. Bypassing the thalamus means that we can respond faster to smell than we can to other sensory inputs. Humans can identify odors as quickly as 110 milliseconds after their first sniff, making our sense of smell the fastest of all our senses.
Smell vs. Other Senses
Our sense of smell, or olfaction, is different from our other senses in that it uses molecules in the air as chemical messengers to the rest of our body. Sight uses photoreceptors through light, touch uses touch receptors on our skin, and hearing uses sound waves and vibrations. Taste is somewhat different. Sharing some of the receptors with olfaction, taste is a combination of about 80% smell combined with sensations of sweet, salty, bitter, umami, and sour through our tongue receptors.
What You Smell Matters
In the process of caring for our sense of smell, it is especially critical for us to connect with the scents of nature. As a result of the evolutionary process, we possess an affinity for natural aromas. It is in our DNA to love nature. For millions of years, these scents have been a means to interpret the story of the world around us - from warning us about dangerous substances, to leading us to nutritious food, to encouraging us to develop bonds with our loved ones. As we know well, and intuitively understand, simply being in nature contributes to good physical and mental health. You may be acquainted with the practice of forest bathing and its naturally stress relieving, blood pressure reducing benefits. (If you are not, read our blog on the Art of Forest Bathing!) Aromatic molecules not only support the health of plants, but also our own health!
Connecting with the aromas of nature allows us to reorient and recalibrate our senses, which have grown accustomed to the artificial intensity of modern life. Not unlike overstimulation by the light of screens, we may find ourselves overwhelmed by the strength of manufactured aromas. By training our noses to return to nature, we may also find a more profound appreciation for its marvelous complexity.
Ancient Heritage - A New Era of Discovery
Smell is the first sense to have evolved in creatures on Earth. Before sight, hearing, taste, and even touch, bacteria evolved to respond to the chemicals around them nearly 700 million years ago - a rudimentary sense of olfaction. Despite this ancient heritage, we have only recently begun diving deep into the science behind the sense of smell, and its interactions with other systems of our body. Olfactory receptors were discovered only 30 years ago in 1991 by Linda Buck, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2004 for her contributions to the field. This was a watershed event that opened up the olfactory system to further research, and a catalyst to the incredible discoveries we have made in even only the past decade. We are inspired by Linda Buck’s tireless research and the field of olfactory science - without which our botanically-powered products would not be possible today.
A Journey into the Miracle of Small Things
We are living in a revolutionary era of olfactory discovery. We cannot help but marvel at the wonder that is our olfactory system, and the incredible powers of these ‘small things’ - aromatic molecules that have the power to evoke memories, guide us through the world, and even support our physical and mental wellbeing. As we unravel the mysteries of the olfactory system, we continue to learn about the world around us and grow closer to ourselves in the process. Our sense of smell has been largely neglected and misunderstood, but we are inspired to delve deeper into this fascinating conduit - to our inner beauty and wellness, and to the beauty and wellness of the world around us. Thank you for joining us on this journey of exploration.