My fascination with plant ingredients and how they can impact a person’s emotions and hormones was one of the driving forces that led me to create Desavery. My goal was to combine the science around how smells impact our brain with great skincare.
For quite some time we’ve known that ingredients like clary sage, bergamot and spikenard impact emotions, hormones and yes, even sleep. One of the pioneers in this area is Dr. Noam Sobel, a professor of neurobiology whose groundbreaking research has shed light on the biological mechanisms of smell and how this often-underestimated sense profoundly influences human behaviour, cognition, social connections, and hormones. I thought it would be interesting to share some of his latest research and discoveries.
Olfaction: The Underappreciated Sense
Among the five primary senses, smell is often overshadowed by vision and hearing. Dr. Sobel's research has demonstrated that olfaction plays a fundamental role in shaping our biology and behaviour. Unlike other senses that rely on specific organs, olfaction occurs when odorants in the environment interact with olfactory receptors in the nose, triggering electrical signals that travel to the brain. The olfactory system is directly linked to the limbic system, the brain region responsible for emotions, memories, and social behaviours, making smell a powerful and primal sense.
Nice to Smell You!
Dr. Sobel's work has focused on olfaction in social interactions. When meeting new people, we subconsciously gather information about their physiology and psychology through their body odours. This phenomenon, known as "social sensing," allows us to detect important cues related to a person's health, emotions, and even genetic compatibility. Through odour signals, we can unconsciously assess potential mates and friends, playing a pivotal role in forming social bonds.
Beyond initial encounters, smell continues to influence our relationships on a profound level. Dr. Sobel's research has revealed that odours can affect the release of hormones, including oxytocin, often referred to as the "bonding hormone" or "love hormone." This hormonal response, fosters feelings of trust and closeness between individuals. As a result, scent can contribute significantly to the dynamics of friendships and romantic partnerships.
The Influence of Smell on Emotions, Memories, and Hormones
The olfactory system has direct connections to the amygdala and hippocampus, areas of the brain that regulate emotions and memory formation. This neural connection explains why certain scents can evoke powerful emotions or trigger vivid memories from the past. And it’s not only memories, certain smells directly affect hormone levels (particularly cortisol and adrenaline), stress responses and anxiety levels.
How Breathing is Impacted By Smell
Dr. Sobel's research explores the intricate relationship between breathing and olfaction. Think of how you naturally inhale deeply when smelling beautiful flowers and how the opposite happens when you come across an unpleasant smell. Breathing serves a dual purpose: it allows us to take in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide while also facilitating the detection of airborne odorants. The interaction between these processes is not coincidental. Smell can modulate autonomic functions such as heart rate, blood pressure, and digestion, influencing our physiological state and overall balance.
The Digitization of Smell: A Novel Frontier
One of Dr. Sobel's most ground-breaking areas of research is the digitization of smell. His work seeks to understand the complex chemistry of scents and convert them into digital signals. If successful, the digitization of smell could enable us to "send odours" over the internet, revolutionizing online communication and literally creating another dimension to the virtual world.
I think this last initiative, the ability to digitize smell is incredible. Imagine a website where you could actually smell the products before you bought them and experience that feeling you get when you inhale the spiky but soporific smell of spikenard, relaxing bergamot or energy inducing yuzu!