Loss of sense of smell could predict death

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A study has revealed that you may be extremely ill if you are no longer able to smell pungent odours.

The report states that people who have lost their sense of smell are six times more likely to die within the next five years, than others.

Scientists used five scents during their experiments, fish, leather, peppermint, orange and rose, and the inability to identify these odours could predict death within a period of five years.

This may sound strange, but a poor sense of smell increases the odds of death more than medical conditions, such as cancer.

The US researchers stipulated that while the loss or dulling of the sense of smell does not cause death, it acts as an early warning that something is wrong.

Scientists believe that a basic smell test could be used in the identification of pensioners who may be at high risk of a premature death.

British experts have urged people not to panic as much more research is required to confirm this link.

This was the first study of its kind and involved more than 3000 males and females between the ages of 57 and 85, who were asked to endure a three-minute smell test. They were required to smell the scent given off by gadgets similar to felt tip pens and had to choose between four possible answers. This was done five times. The fragrances used were, in rank of increasing difficulty, peppermint, fish, orange, rose and leather.

Most of the participants achieved at least four out of five correct answers, which means they had a normal sense of smell.

Around 20% identified two or three of the smells, which indicated a mild loss of the sense of smell.

Around 3.5% got one or none of the answers right and judges placed them in the anosmic category, meaning they have lost their sense of smell.

Five years after the tests, 430 of the males and females had passed away.

The report stated that those who had failed the test were six times more likely to have died than those with a healthy sense of smell. The findings may be related to gender, age and socio-economic status, however even when these factors were considered, a person without a sense of smell was at three times the risk of death.

According to the researchers, only severe liver damage is more strongly linked to death within five years, than losing a sense of smell.

One possibility for this phenomenon is that the health of the olfactory nerve, which is responsible imparting information on sells from the nose to the brain, may be an indication of overall health. In the event that it has become worn, old and lost the ability to repair itself, the body and brain may be in the same condition.

Another explanation is that pollutants, poisons and infections that we breathe in may damage the sense of smell before it harms the body and the brain.

Image Credit: Nelson de Witt

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