What Does Your Sense Of Smell Tell You About Your Mental Health?

Believe it or not, your sense of smell may be linked to your mood and memory. That's because there is a connection between your brain and your olfactory system — the structure that allows you to smell. According to experts at Verywell Mind, this is why people often associate certain memories with specific smells. In fact, research has shown that there is a neural basis for this. A 2021 study published in the journal Progress in Neurobiology found that there is actually a connection between the primary olfactory cortex and the hippocampus in the brain, which is where long-term memories are stored.

Another study found that there are even specific neurons in the hippocampus that can help enable certain scents to trigger powerful memories. "Our experience with odors is typically where odor is the backdrop or context for a person, place, or emotional state," Dr. Pamela Dalton, an experimental psychologist and faculty member at Monell Chemical Senses Center, told Verywell Mind.

Memory is closely linked to mood

How exactly can your sense of smell have an impact on your mood and mental health? As it turns out, the hippocampus not only plays a big role in our ability to store memories, but it's also responsible for regulating mood. According to MindBodyGreen, the neocortex, which is responsible for sensory perception, typically reroutes the connection between our senses and the hippocampus. The olfactory system doesn't quite operate in the same way, however. In fact, there appears to be a direct link between olfaction and the hippocampus.

This means that not only can certain smells trigger powerful memories, but they can also conjure certain emotions associated with those memories. For instance, the smell of certain foods may remind you of a happy childhood memory, lifting your mood in the process. This can have an important impact on your mental health. Dr. Christina Zelano, an assistant professor of neurobiology and lead investigator of the Northwestern Medicine study, told MindBodyGreen that smells and scents are a "profound part of memory," and losing the ability to smell can lead to depression and low quality of life.