That does it. I’m taking Otrivin off my monthly shopping list. For years, my general physician and my ENT specialist have been asking me to do just that, listing the many misfortunes that can befall me owing to my prolonged use of a nasal decongestant. But I’ve turned my back on them and clung faithfully to my little bottle, a la Radha to Krishna, scared that its loss will leave me choked and breathless. With unflinching brand loyalty, I’ve moved from Novartis to GSK, from glass bottle to plastic aerosol spray.
I’ve opted to live with the fear of nose bleeds, liver damage, atrophy of the nasal lining and high blood pressure provided that I can face them head on with an unstuffy nose, and my sense of smell on point.
But no more. Today, I pull the plug on my addiction. Not because I’ve succumbed to the doctors’ orders, or because I don’t want to be in a situation where I’m forced to go under the knife for a nose job. (The last is true, but that’s not it). It’s because of something very crucial that Science—that God of all Reason, all Seasons—has revealed this week. It’s found that a loss of smell can lead to loss of weight.
To explain in detail, researchers have found that those who have lost their sense of smell can eat a high-fat diet and yet stay a normal weight by burning the excess fat with no effect on muscle, organ or bone mass, while their companions who retain their ‘nose’ eat the same food and balloon to twice their size. There’s more. The study also found that those with a boosted sense of smell, aka super-smellers, get even fatter on a high-fat diet than do eaters with a ‘normal’ nose.
The findings suggest that the smell of what you eat plays an important role in how your body deals with the calories you take in. The fact that you burn rather than store the food you eat if you can’t smell it would indicate a key connection between our olfactory system and the part of the brain that regulates metabolism. Science agrees. “Sensory systems play a role in metabolism. Weight gain isn’t purely a measure of the calories taken in; it’s also related to how those calories are perceived,” says senior researcher Andrew Dillin. “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.”
Wow. That should be interesting, except for a minor problem, or two. One, the researchers who discovered the smelly connection with fat while working at the University of California, Berkeley, were conducting their experiments on mice. Two, the loss of smell in the rodents was accompanied by a large increase in the noradrenaline hormone, which is a stress response tied to the sympathetic nervous system. In humans, this rise could trigger a heart attack.
Now the first obstacle (regarding the mice) can perhaps be ignored, since we’re all in a rat race out here. But the heart attack bit is a dampener. Maybe, I’ll hang on to my Otrivin after all.