Vital Nutrients for Sense of Smell

By Dr. Linda J. Dobberstein, DC, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition

May 30, 2023

Vital Nutrients for Sense of Smell
The scents of fresh baked bread, a rich cup of coffee, or spring flowers like lilacs and honeysuckle are wonderful aromas. The ability to notice these pleasant scents are taken for granted until they decline. Your sense of smell provides more than pleasure or warning of a concern; it is a vital sense that affects the quality of your health today and is even an indicator of your brain health in the future.

About the Olfactory System

Our sense of smell is one of our five main special senses. The olfactory system is responsible for this sense. It is also closely linked with the sense of taste as they both rely on the presence and identification of molecules.

The olfactory system consists of your nose, nasal bones and airway passages, mucosal membranes, sensory nerves, and the olfactory bulbs, olfactory tract, and olfactory cortex in your brain. Inside the mucosal lining of your nasal passages are sensory nerves which pick up molecules or scents in the air.

These nerves transfer this information to the olfactory bulb in the front part of your brain. It then relays information via the olfactory tracts to the cerebral cortex where the temporal lobe and limbic system process this information.

The temporal lobe is involved with organizing sensory input. The limbic system consists of amygdala, hippocampus, and hypothalamus. These structures are involved with connecting emotions and memories to scents and odors. They are also an integral part of cognitive function.

Aging Well with Better Sense of Smell

The acuity of your sense of smell can be an important indicator of your brain health because of its deep connections to the memory and cognitive centers in your brain. Studies show that as individuals age, those who had better sense of smell had slower decline in memory, attention, cognitive speed, and manual dexterity. In fact, a decline or loss of smell and taste can occur on average 11 years prior to the diagnosis of neurodegenerative disorders.

Is Your Sense of Smell Dwindling?

In the general population, an estimated 20 percent of individuals have had a decline or dysfunctional sense of smell. This includes individuals of all ages.

A recent 2017 population survey of older adults in the U.S. found 12.4% of individuals reported that their sense of smell was fair or poor. However, upon laboratory testing, it was identified that twice the number of this test population had difficulties. It was found that 74% of the participants from this latter group failed to recognize that their sense of smell was diminished or gone.

Other research suggests that a decreased sense of smell is present in more than 50% of individuals 65-80 years old. In adults over 80 years old, as many as 80% have lost their sense of smell.

Further studies have identified that 15-50% of individuals have experienced loss of smell due to current or long-term effects from recent upper respiratory illness. A decline of this sense occurs when viral activity and inflammatory processes damage the olfactory mucosa and the function of olfactory neurons.

Have you noticed changes with family members or friends perhaps drinking spoiled milk or not cleaning up the cat litter box because they’re not sensing the odor? Sometimes decline may also be seen in a change of personal hygiene habits or excessive use of perfumes or colognes.

Things that Affect Olfactory System Response

Your sense of smell is affected by several things. These include age, sinus problems, germs and immune challenges, environmental toxins, significant trauma to the face and/or brain, and neurotransmitter changes, etc.

Your metabolic hormones such as leptin, insulin, and grehlin, and time between meals also affect your olfactory system responses. Research shows that allowing time or fasting between meals increases the sensitivity of your olfactory system, whereas when you feel full olfactory sensitivity decreases. You likely have noticed this connection when you smell food cooking and then you feel hungry.

Rejuvenation of Olfactory Tissues

The olfactory bulbs and surrounding tissues can repair and remodel as they have a high neuroplasticity tendency. Several nutrients and compounds such as zinc, B vitamins, PEA, lipoic acid, vitamin A, and NAC aid in protection and natural support of the olfactory system and its neuroplasticity.


Zinc is one of the most well-known nutrients needed for the sense of smell is zinc. This is for several reasons.

Zinc is also required for the olfactory ensheathing cells to regenerate and function in the olfactory bulb. Lack of zinc causes ensheathing cells to undergo cell death or apoptosis. Ensheathing cells are a type of glial cell that supports the function and neuroplasticity of the olfactory bulb.

Zinc is critical for nerve signals and transmission between the olfactory bulb and the hippocampus of your limbic system. This trace mineral is vital for the sense of smell, as well as memory recall. Zinc is also in high demand by the hippocampus in your brain for cognitive functioning.

Zinc supplementation needs to be balanced with copper, as in our Strengthener Plus supplement. More information may be found in the article: Taking Zinc? Balance It with Copper!

B Vitamins

Just like your brain needs B vitamins for cognitive function, energy, and peripheral nerves, so does your olfactory system. A recent study showed that low dietary intake of thiamin/vitamin B1 and folate preceded “olfactory dysfunction” 2-8 years prior to cognitive decline and neurodegeneration. A different study showed adults experienced improvements in their sense of smell after 6 months of using a B complex supplement.

B vitamin support is also important in another way. Animal studies recently demonstrated that elevated homocysteine induces damage to the olfactory bulb. Homocysteine is a natural metabolite that can build up in your blood stream and affect cardiovascular health. Vitamins B6, B12, and folate are required for your body to manage homocysteine metabolism.

B vitamins are rapidly used up during stress and increased demands. Poor digestion, malabsorption, gut flora imbalances, antibiotics, acid blocking drugs, aspirin, NSAIDs, the Western diet or restrictive diets may leave you with insufficient B vitamins. More information may be found in the article B Vitamin Deficiency: Are You at Risk?


PEA is a special lipid highly supportive for protecting your sense of smell, olfactory system, and its neuroplasticity. Results of a recent double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial evaluated adults with a decline in smell after an upper respiratory immune challenge. Results showed that 92 percent of participants experienced greater recovery of smell than “olfactory training” alone after 90 days of PEA use. In this study, participants used 700 mg PEA combined with luteolin, another antioxidant.

PEA is a neuroprotective lipid naturally produced by your body but declines with age and various challenges. PEA modulates and resolves inflammation in your brain and body. It is an important ROS free radical quencher. It also helps stabilize mast cell activity dampening release of histamine.

More information about PEA may be found in the articles:

PEA: Natural Support for Nerves and Comfort

PEA Effective for Exercise Recovery and Athletes

PEA Calms Digestive Stress and Improves Bowel Motility

Lipoic Acid

Lipoic acid provides antioxidant support and aids in the production of nerve growth factor. This is important for olfactory neuroplasticity. A small clinical trial showed that lipoic acid supported restoration of smell in more than half of the participants after upper respiratory concerns. Dosage used was 600 mg/day of alpha-lipoic acid on average for 5 months. Younger individuals responded the best compared to older adults.

We use the advanced form of R-alpha lipoic acid, called Na-RALA or sodium-R-lipoate. It is more stable and bioavailable than plain R-alpha lipoic acid and alpha-lipoic acid.

NAC and Vitamin A

N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) and vitamin A have protective effects on olfactory neurons too. These nutrients provide antioxidant support which protects against apoptosis or cell death. NAC and vitamin A are also heavily used for immune function, mucosal barrier integrity, and many health needs. NAC and Vitamin A are found in Daily Protector Eye & Immune.

More information may be found in the articles:

NAC: Versatile Antioxidant, Immune, Sinus, and Detox Support

Vitamin A – An Essential Nutrient for Immune, Respiratory, and Gut Health

Perhaps you have noticed a decline in your sense of smell or in a loved one. If your “sniffer” needs some support, consider the use of PEA Ultra, R-alpha lipoic acid, Strengthener Plus, Super Coenzyme B Complex, and/or Daily Protector Eye & Immune.

Having a good sense of smell can be predictor of brain health, provide pleasure, and assist in warning you against danger. Were you able to smell that cup of coffee this morning?

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