New Research Suggests a Connection between Food Smells and Weight Gain

Wednesday 19th July 2017

A research team at The University of California, Berkley have found a connection between the smell of food before eating and gaining weight, at least in laboratory mice.

The findings, published in the journal Cell Metabolism, ensured that the same amount of high calorie food was consumed and the only difference was whether the mice could smell or not, suggesting a connection between how the body perceives food, its metabolism, and how it stores fat, suggesting that if the body will burn off fat easier if it can’t smell the food, and a possible solution for people with issues surrounding weight loss.

The experiment in question involved two groups of mice, one with a normal sense of smell, one with their sense of smell muted via chemical means. They were then given the same amount of high calorie food and the resulting weight gain was measured.

The results were telling: with the high calorie food the mice with a sense of smell almost doubled their weight on average, whilst the mice who had suppressed smells gained a tenth of that on average. A similar piece of research involving already obese mice with a boosted sense of smell gained more weight still whilst already obese mice with their sense of smell reduced lost weight.

The researchers involved suggest that metabolism may be affected by our sensory systems as well, suggesting that weight gain is based on how calories are perceived as much as how many calories are taken in. There is a level of excitement in whether this can be replicated in humans, and therefore drugs could be created that blocks the metabolic circuitry related to smells without affecting the smells themselves.

These are all speculative views until more tests are done with human subjects, however there are greater risks with humans as the hormone noradrenaline is produced when the sympathetic nervous system is activated, which has the potential to cause heart attacks.

The reason for the importance of smells is partly already based on common knowledge. Our sense of taste is based in part on our smell, and we tend to be more attuned to smells when we are hungry. The links between senses still isn’t fully mapped out or explained yet however, particularly the links between smell and the hypothalamus and other regions of the brain that regulate hunger and metabolism.

What is interesting is that while one could see intuitively that smell could affect the consumption of food, in the sense that if food smelled nice a person would eat more of it, this study suggests the smell of food relates to how the body stores fat and energy related to it. This is a fascinating field of study if applicable to humans, which will require more research to work out.

Plenty of research and consumables of varying levels of dubiousness have been undertaken to help people lose weight and it will be interesting to see going forward how much our senses affect how we carry weight.