Scientists Say Humans Are Losing The Sense Of Smell

By Doug Norrie | 3 months ago


Think you aren’t smelling some things quite the same way you used to? You might not be the only one. There is a study floating around now that suggests humans might be losing one of their five senses and that smell is getting much worse over the years. Could this be in preparation for living in a highly polluted world, knocking out our sense of smell now to save the aggravation later? It could be, or maybe changes in the evolving human body are making it so our odor receptors just aren’t as critical as they were in the past. A new study coming out of China tested 1,000 people and found evidence that humans’ sense of smell, in the aggregate, may have diminished considerably. 

This new study about the sense of smell comes from Shanghai Institute of Nutrition and Health in Nature (via ScienceAlert) in which scientists tested 1,000 different people, an ethnically diverse population. It involved two different odors and sought to see how folks reacted to each. Each participant was given 10 different distinct odors to take a whiff of with two of them being scents that scientists have known people either have a singular reaction to or can’t smell at all. One is a synthetic scent called Galaxolide and the other is one associated with what is produced by your armpits. Sounds like it was a fun time for all involved. 

By isolating these two fragrances and odors, and comparing it to DNA evidence from the different people in the study, the scientists were able to isolate the sense receptors that actually allow humans to pick up on the different smells. What they found was that people with those receptors were able to smell the two odors. Those without obviously couldn’t. But because they were able to link up the DNA with the ability to report the smells, the scientists could trace back along ancestral lines to see if the odors would have been more intense further back in time. This group believes they have the evidence to suggest that the human sense of smell has worsened dramatically through the generations. 


Admittedly, this isn’t definitive proof that humans, a population, are losing the sense of smell across the board. It’s not 100% that the ancestral tracing is the firm evidence of a loss of smell over hundreds of years. And it’s worth mentioning that, on average, humans are thought to be able to smell and identify more than a trillion different odors (that’s a lot!). This is often pointed to when studies suggest that a decreasing sense of smell as part of the timeline is directly tied to eyesight taking over as the primary sense. But there could still be marginal losses over time. 

In the meantime, maybe take a minute to smell your own armpits to make sure you still “got it” when it comes to your sniffing game. Important to at least always be on top when it comes to your own personal funk. Because if those around still have got their sense of smell, they are definitely going to notice.