Compared to our other senses, relatively little is known about our sense of smell. It is certainly the one most taken for granted. Though most of us rarely think about it, our sense of smell goes about its critical business of helping us in every facet of our lives.

The brain processes information delivered through our other senses -- sight, sound, taste and touch -- by mental identification first, which in turn triggers an emotional response. But our sense of smell does the opposite. Incoming odors are processed by the emotions first and then identified.

Aromas delivered to the smell receptors in our brains have a powerful effect on behavior. Just think on how you respond when you smell a cup of coffee first thing in the morning or react to a dead skunk on the side of the road. Influencing behavior using scent is a new medical frontier.

In recent years research in olfaction has increased dramatically and we are experiencing a scent revolution that will allow us to not only to expand the pleasures of the sense of smell but to use this sense as a tool to manage our emotions, allow early detection of diseases, treat a wide variety of psychological and physiological problems, assist in the aging process and provide a better understanding of how smell can enhance our lives and well-being.

Odors travel up the nose to a patch of nerve cells located above the eyes. From this olfactory bulb, smells go to the higher brain areas that are responsible for conscious discrimination and to the areas that control emotions. Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), highly detailed maps of metabolic activity in the brain have given researchers a deeper understanding of how the brain receives and processes olfactory information.

As further research identifies how odor is perceived, differentiated and transmitted, the door will open for improving and intensifying almost all our olfactory experiences. When applied to health and beauty products, they will deliver the added benefit of an enhanced sense of well-being. Scents will be more than a fashion accessory or statement of personal style; they will routinely be used to:

• Promote relaxation and reduce stress
• Improve work performance
• Elevate mood and reduce depression
• Modify sleep and dreams
• Enhance self-image
• Retrieve memories
• Enhance sexuality
• Improve social relationship.

This new understanding of the psychological and physiological effects of scents will result in scientific and medical applications as well:

• Scents will be used to reduce anxiety during stressful medical testing such as MRIs.
• Assist people with weight loss by using aromas to satisfy their food craving.
• An aging population, with diminished sense of taste and smell due to the aging process, will be able to re-stimulate these functions with aromas.
• Scents will alleviate depression and mood swings during menopause.
• An infant’s early ability to recognize and respond to smells may be used to diagnose potential learning disabilities later in life.
• Scents will be used to improve well being and enhance performance.
• The use of scents in public spaces i.e. airports, train stations, hotels and amusement parks, will enhance behavior and create a more positive environment.

Without a doubt, the sense of smell will increasingly play a prominent and positive role in improving our daily lives and in expanding our sensory experiences in the 21st century.

Author's Bio: 

Luke Vorstermans is the Founder and CEO of The Sense of Smell Lab, a world leader in pioneering products that use the sense of smell for health, wellness and sheer smelling pleasure. The SOS Lab developed the Sniff n Go aromapod, the Scentuelle libido patch and Scent Therapy product line.