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The Sense of Smell: Fragile but Powerful
Moon Sung-ho  |  msh524@hanyang.ac.kr
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[10호] 승인 2011.04.08  
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    Kim Chang-jin, a Sophomore in the Department of Business Administration is late for his first class of Intermediate Accounting. He goes to the back of the classroom. As he listens to the lecture, he is attracted to a strong perfume worn by a girl in front of him. "I can notice she is my ideal type without seeing her face. I should talk to her,” he thinks. Without hesitation he makes his move to talk to the girl. As the girl turns to look at Kim, Kim was shocked to see that it was not the face he was expecting to see. “Oh, my nose has tricked me once again,” he sighs.
     This example shows how smells affect a person strongly. The sense of smell is often called “most delicate chemistry magic show which can differentiate over ten hundred thousand different smells.” Also, it is the second most influential sense that affects people following sight. “As you know more about sense of smell, you will be attracted to its wonders. Many neurological and psychological effects have a complex relationship with the sense of smell. Naturally, sense of smell is very important in human life. You can not think of a life without it,” said Kim Jin-hoon, a professor in the Department of Chemistry.


Sense of Smell, Dwelling in our Life
     People usually do not realize that the sense of smell is important in their life. In fact, a survey by NewsInk in 2009 of participants over 20 years old shows that only 38 percent regard smell as essential. However, the sense of smell that takes part in our life takes up more than 57 percent, according to Joongang Daily. Smell helps people sense danger and taste.
      A fine sense of smell assists people from falling into danger. Humans can remember about 10,400 smells naturally. As time goes by, people can sense danger by smell since it is memorized in the adrenocortical cortex, which is the main organization of memory in the back of the brain. In short, the memory helps people to categorize danger. For instance, people know whether food is rotten by smell. When a person smells rotten milk, enzymes, which is a type of hormone will stimulate the third type of olfactory nerve. This affect will warn the person that he or she should not drink the milk.
     When danger is sensed, the nose absorbs a sour smell to warn people. Sour smells or acidic liquid is secreted through the olfactory nerves. People are not able to smell this scent directly since it only secretes about 0.0003 milligrams; just enough to make people feel awkward and bewildered. To illustrate this fact, Northwestern University conducted a study. In the experiment, 12 applicants were made to smell a lemon before and after they were given electric shocks. The result showed that people who smelled lemon after the shock was able to smell it stronger “When people sense danger, the acidic liquid makes them shiver and feel chilly. This is because our brain senses acidic more than basic traits. It is an amazing physical siren that affects greatly in human’s psychological and neurological matter,” said Kim Jin-hoon, a professor in the Department of Chemistry.

 

Olfactory Chemistry and its Effect.
     As the sense of smell is the second contributing sense in human body, it influences people both psychologically and neurologically.
     Foremost of all, the olfactory nerve, or nerve of smell, is the fastest route to the brain. When a person smells something, it only takes about 0.3 seconds for the nerve to be stimulated. Then it will convey the scent to the brain within 0.2 seconds. On the other hand, other senses take 0.7 second to reach the brain. The main reason for the swift delivery is due to the fact that the sense of smell is the only sensorium which directly delivers the sense to the limbic system. The limbic system is an organization related to archoicortex activity in the back of the brain which all the senses reach in the end. This advantage is very important in the field of image making. Since smell reaches the brain faster than sight, it is evident that people psychologically form a person’s image mostly by the olfactory matter. The limbic system, which is greatly affected by smell controls human memory and emotion. Thus, even though there is a person who is good looking but has a bad smell, that person is likely to give a bad memory or emotions to others. “When people meet a stranger, their smell radar activates the limbic system before the sight radar. So sight really has not much power in making ones image. In other words, smell governs about 70 percent of a person’s image, whereas sight contributes to 20 percent,” said Lee Myung-jin, the director of Perfumer Power Inc, a perfume making industry.
      Furthermore, smell is  more neurologically sensitive than other senses. The first reason is attributed to its ability to absorb volatile substances. It is the only sense which can feel chemicals. This is important because chemicals are fragile and very tangible to the change in the atmosphere. In other words, the nose is greatly affected by the outer environment.
     Moreover, smell is the only sense which is reproductive. Olfactory nerves exist in the upper part of the nose. There are about 1,000 nerves which can individually discriminate among 100 smells. Since they regenerate when nerves die, people can live with a good sense of smell even though they are old. Thus, the sense of smell is sensitive.
In addition, because when there are new types of chemical stimulating the olfactory nerve, it makes a new neuron which can accommodate new types of chemicals. Therefore, people can adapt to new chemicals whenever there is one. “This is the main reason why the sense of smell is regarded as the most sensitive. When we look at the sense of vision, our eyes cannot absorb all the colors that exist and our ears cannot hear every sound on different audio frequencies. Our nose, however, can absorb every smell by generating new olfactory nerves,” said Park Ji-su who works in the KAIST Olfactory Research Institute.
     A highly sensitive sense of smell affects human psychologically. When our nose is uncomfortable, we become anxious. The nose begins to give signs to the limbic system that it feels awkward. Then, the heartbeat grows faster and people become uneasy. When the nose feels awkward for more than 10 hours, it sends a defigine hormone, or a warning hormone, to the brain. This is a hormone which generates gloominess and horror. If a lot of amount of defigine hormone spreads to the brain, people will have problem with personal relationships and may see visions.

Bad Nose: Its Affect and its Cure
     As people get older, they become fragile to diseases. Illnesses in  the nose are no exception. People can suffer from aneixasia, a disease when people cannot taste food. Rexinomia, a disease which make people get indifferent to dangerous situations. The source of the aforementioned diseases is anosmia. “Anosmia is a disease which causes a paralysis of the olfactory nerves. As the paralysis progresses it induces the aforementioned disorders,” said Park.
The main problem of anosmia is that when teenagers have the disease, their cerebellum is not likely to grow to its normal size. The limbic system is the main nutrition source that gives the power for the cerebellum to grow. However, as the limbic system looses it is main ally, it diminishes the amount of nutrition which leads to less growth of cerebellum. Because the cerebellum’s main role is to enhance creativity and personal relations, students who have anosmia are likely to feel loneliness and will have presumptuous attitude toward society. “These days many students suffer from anosmia due to pollution. Parents need to take care of their children so they do not suffer from the disease. In adolescence when they are sensitive to the atmosphere, this disease is very critical to kids,” said Park.
     To not get anosmia, people should avoid cold environments. Science magazine Nature stated that 78 percent of nose allergies start when people get cold. To do this, experts advise people to clean the mucous membrane, or the top of the nostril, regularly. Also, olfactory nerves should be relaxed once a year. When people get older, their noses become fragile due to hyperosmia, or accumulation of stress. To alleviate stress, selfalaine acid can be used. Selfalaine is a liquid which contains chemicals that relieves tension. By using a tissue, people can easily calm their nose by rubbing it gently inside your nose.  This therapy can easily be done in near hospitals.
      In addition, aromatherapy is encouraged. Smelling the scent of flowers once a week will relieve the tension of the olfactory nerves. “Once a week, smell the aroma for twenty to thirty seconds. If you do not have an aroma, smelling flowers is also adequate. It is very simple and easy way to sustain your smell,” said Kim.

Better Nose, Better Life
     “You cannot imagine yourself without the sense of smell. You will not be able to taste your favorite food nor will you be safe. Also, since smell is strongly related to the limbic system, you will suffer from uneasy intention,” said Park. Indeed, sense of smell takes great part of our life. Without it, we will suffer from the aforementioned consequences. Since 2008, many Korean hospitals have witnessed the importance of sense of smell and are currently working on how to sustain olfactory nerve for the rest of people’s lives. “There are currently more than ten percent of people who are suffering from nose problem. Our medical center is working on a four year basis to make a medicine that will make people more impervious to nose diseases. I hope for a better world where people can have the best-condition-noses,” said Park.

 

 

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