My Sense of Smell is making me Fat

Having an exceptionally keen sense of smell would seem to be a blessing: It can provide early warning of dangers (fire, gas leaks), detect the presence of an attractive mate (George Clooney), and enhance the gustatory delight of a delicious meal.

“But when you’re a mouse (or, perhaps, a human) and fattening food is all around, a new study finds that those with little or no ability to detect odors may have a key advantage. While mice with an intact sense of smell grow obese on a steady diet of high-fat chow, their littermates who have had their sense of smell expunged can eat the same food yet remain trim.”

“Mice with an impaired sense of smell did not eat less of the high-fat chow than did their peers with normal olfaction. Nor did they move around more in their cages, or expel more of their food before extracting its nutrients.”

“Instead, a report in the journal Cell Metabolism underscores that our sense of smell is lashed together with a broad range of seemingly unrelated basic functions, including metabolism and stress response.”

“Mice stripped of their sense of smell burn fat differently — more intensively — than do mice whose olfaction is normal. They typically have higher levels of adrenaline — the “go” signal in the body’s fight-or-flight system — than do mice with an intact sense of smell. And even when all they eat is high-fat chow, they don’t appear as likely as capable smellers to develop such afflictions as fatty liver or the kind of dangerous fat deposits that settle around the midsection.”

In one of three experiments researchers disabled the specialized olfactory brain cells of mice who were made fat on a diet of high-fat chow. The effect was rapid and robust: Those mice lost roughly a third of their body weight. And the weight they lost was virtually all from fat.

“I was shocked — the effect was so robust,” said UC Berkeley stem cell biologist and geneticist Andrew Dillin, the study’s senior author. “I was convinced they were just eating less. When it became clear they weren’t, I thought, ‘Wow, this is incredibly interesting.’”

In another experiment, researchers created “super-smellers” — mice with an exceptionally acute sense of smell — by disabling a specialized receptor in the brain’s olfactory system. Even when the smells the mice were tested on were “social,” such as the scent of an unknown member of the opposite sex, the champion smellers were at greater risk for weight gain and impaired metabolism than were mice with normal or low olfactory acuity.

“Indeed, all kinds of hormonal signals, including many that play a role in appetite and fat storage, get dialed differently in mice with an impaired sense of smell, the researchers found.”

“Adrenaline, for instance, plays a role in an animal’s response not only to threats but to stresses such as cold. In mice with low-functioning olfactory neurons, higher adrenaline levels appeared to activate special stores of energy-intensive “brown fat” to burn white fat as fuel, and to convert some white fat stores to brown fat.”

The collective effect of those differing signals was consistently to protect the smell-impaired mouse from the unhealthy effects of overconsumption, the researchers discovered.

“The new study is a far cry from establishing that all the same dynamics are at play in humans. But while mice probably rely on their sense of smell more than humans, they can tell us a lot about human obesity, Dillin said. And these findings do suggest an intriguing way to help those with obesity lose some weight and improve their metabolic function without having to change what, or how much, they eat, he added.”

  • “Researchers know that when people lose their sense of smell — an effect seen in certain strokes, brain injuries and neurodegenerative diseases — their appetites wane, they eat less, and (no surprise) they lose weight.
  • It’s also well known that the acuity of our sense of smell rises and falls depending on circumstance: It’s at its zenith when we haven’t eaten in several hours, and plummets just after we’ve had a meal.”
  • “The first observation suggests that smell piques or sustains interest in eating directly. The second suggests that smell may set off a host of signals about the body’s energy needs that work indirectly to affect metabolic function. That side of the equation is a lot less obvious, and has been studied far less.”

“The new research suggests that reducing olfactory cues might do more than help overweight people shed pounds. It may also right some of the metabolic and hormonal signals that get pushed out of whack as a person accumulates too much fat.”

“The potential of modulating olfactory signals in the context of the metabolic syndrome or diabetes is attractive,” write the authors of the new study. “Even relatively short-term loss of smell improves metabolic health and weight loss, despite the negative consequences of being on a high-fat diet.”

“Dillin said there are a number of directions in which this research could be taken next. Researchers could look at broad populations of people, testing the acuity of their olfactory sense and, over time, measuring how that tracks with their propensity toward weight gain or metabolic abnormality.”

“As for human trials of impaired olfaction, Dillin said a clothes pin on the nose won’t work: Our mouths also admit olfactory information. But some chemical agents, including one currently used as a pesticide, are known to knock out humans’ sense of smell temporarily. If such compounds could be used safely on humans, it might be possible to gauge how weight and metabolism are affected when olfaction is altered.”

“In the meantime, study first author Celine Riera, a post-doctoral fellow in Dillin’s lab, plans to tease out the role that the brain’s hypothalamus — a master regulator of everything from involuntary bodily functions to sleep and emotional response — may play in translating smells into fat-burning commands.”



Although this research was specific to MS* there is reason to believe that cocoa which contains anti-inflammatory components could be generalized to fatigue from other causes.

“Daily use of mugs of cocoa may help people suffering from the common symptom in multiple sclerosis. We are talking about extreme fatigue. Cocoa contains flavonoids, and observation of patients showed that consumption of this drink daily for 6 weeks reduces the level of fatigue and pain. British researchers believe that to thank for this you need the cocoa flavonoids that have anti-inflammatory properties.”

“A new study found that cocoa may be one means of combating fatigue. The researchers divided 40 patients who had recently been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis into two groups. The first used a Cup of cocoa with high levels of flavonoids along with rice milk every day for 6 weeks and the second group is the same drink but with a low amount of flavonoids. Assessment of the level of fatigue showed that it was in the first group, the efficiency of cocoa was the highest.”

*”Multiple sclerosis is one of the most common neurological disorders, often causing disability. Thinning of the myelin sheath of the nerves through which the brain sends signals to the body, leads to a gradual loss of control over the movements. Many patients after a while are confined to a wheelchair. However, each case of multiple sclerosis is different and for some patients it progresses slowly over decades and others it develops very fast. It is known that this disorder is two times more common in women than in men.”

What A Bug Can Teach Us About Adapting To Stress

“What if we told you that you could learn a lot about handling adversity from the life of a bug? In their explorations of humans and how we interact with the world around us, the team that makes NPR’s Invisibilia, stumbled on a surprising fact about the insect world — one that could inspire a new way of looking at ourselves.”

“The epic destruction wrought by swarms of locusts is downright biblical. Exodus tells of a plague that left nothing green in all of Egypt and we’ve seen these harbingers of destruction at work in modern-day Australia, Argentina, and Israel, just to name a few. But for centuries, one essential piece of information about these strange insects eluded scientists: Where do they come from?”

“These massive swarms just seemed to pop up out of nowhere, decimate everything, and then vanish.”

“And then finally, in 1921, a scientist named Sir Boris Uvarov made a breakthrough about the source of the swarms. It turned out the horrible locusts were actually common grasshoppers that had undergone a biological metamorphosis.”

At first, scientists were skeptical because grasshoppers are known for being shy, solitary creatures. If they see another grasshopper for instance, “They actually run away from them,” says scientist Michael Anstey.

But under stressful conditions, such as a drought for instance, the grasshoppers all have to crowd together to share the limited resources. As they’re trying to grab for the last bits of food their big hind legs rub up against each other . . . The rubbing together fuels the release of serotonin in their nervous system, which sets several things in motion.

“There’s little stimuli, little hairs, on the hind legs which get triggered and that then starts this domino cascade of the behavioral change from the solitary [grasshopper] into the notorious swarming form,” says Anstey, who published research on desert locusts, one species that goes through these changes.”

“Their wings grow bigger and they start flying around like crazy, they turn from green to black and yellow. They get aggressive and fearless, and incredibly social. In fact, according to Anstey, they are actively attracted to other locusts. And that’s how the swarms build.”

But why did it literally take centuries to figure out that these two creatures were actually the same creature? And why, even after the theory was proposed, did scientists resist it? Why was that such a hard idea to swallow?

“Maybe it’s because we can’t see that in ourselves. Lisa Feldman Barrett, a psychology professor from Northeastern University, says people can be “experientially blind” when faced with a new image of themselves.They just can’t take it in.”

She says we often have such a rigid sense of self, that when we’re presented with new concepts about ourselves — like, you think of yourself as a generous person and then someone tells you they actually think you’re kind of selfish — and our reaction is usually to reject it.

“People will defend themselves or dig their heels in, keep their concepts intact. Or they’ll ignore,” she says.

We like to think that we know who we are, and that we are one thing — one unified true self. But according to Barrett, social psychology research has shown that it’s not like that.

“Who you are in a given moment is very much determined by the situation that you’re in,” says Barrett.

“So when you’re trying to handle some frank criticism or you’re struggling with something hard — or just really want to make a change in your life — Barrett says, you might want to embrace a more flexible self image.”

“If you see yourself in a certain way and that way is inflexible, then you will go to great lengths to make sure that you and everybody else sees you in that way,” she says. “And in the end, you’ll be stressed more frequently, you will work harder to try to please people… to keep that view of yourself intact.”

“If you are struggling in one role in life, your professional life for instance, you don’t pin your whole identity, your whole sense of self on that role, she says. Instead, it helps to have “multiple views of yourself,” Barrett says.”

“So if somebody criticizes you as a teacher, well, you have other ways to think about yourself. You could think about yourself as a friend in that moment, you could think about yourself as a mother. You think about yourself as a terrific gardener.”

“Realizing that you have “a vocabulary of selves” you can become, Barrett says, can be empowering. “It doesn’t allow other people to define who you are. You get to be the author of who you are. Your brain is the one that’s making the choices.”

“According to Barrett, “You aren’t who you are all the time. You are who you are in a given situation.” You might be a locust in one setting. And a grasshopper in another.”

“The locusts by the way, have embraced the idea. As soon as the drought is over, they go back to their own corners as their shy, solitary bright green selves.”


PAUSEitively Tuesday: Falling Down & Landing Up

Take care not to land on your head

and rattle your precious mind

 Keep your chin up instead

It’s better to land on your behind.

“It’s not about falling.

It’s about getting up”

Scott Hamilton, Olympic Skating Gold Medalist



Frankly Freddie – A CURIOUS recap of i.i.i.

In case you missed it here’s some more CURIOUSLY INCREDIBLY INTERESTING INFORMATION (i.i.i.):

Eye my View – The Secrets of the Lotus Flower

Happiness Hacks – Touch Much

Judy’s PSYCHO-logical Mind – How to live in the present moment

Full disclosure:  I Freddie Parker Westerfield, was not the author of these posts.  I farmed them out and then cunningly edited down the verbosity of inexperienced copy writers.


Looking at buildings can give you a headache – even migraine

We’ve posted on how exercise outdoors is neurologically better, how walks in nature can help promote happiness.   The opposite may be true of urban landscapes.

by Arnold J Wilkins, professor of psychology at the University of Essex.

“Over tens of thousands of years, the human brain evolved to effectively process scenes from the natural world. But the urban jungle poses a greater challenge for the brain, because of the repetitive patterns it contains.”

“Mathematician Jean-Baptiste Joseph Fourier showed that we can think of scenes as being made up of striped patterns, of different sizes, orientations and positions, all added together. These patterns are called Fourier components.”

“Scenes from nature have stripes that tend to cancel each other out, so that when added together no stripes appear in the image, whereas urban environments tend to feature regular, repetitive patterns.”

“In nature, as a general rule, components with low spatial frequency (large stripes) have a high contrast and components with high frequency (small stripes) have a lower contrast. We can call this simple relationship between spatial frequency and contrast a “rule of nature.” Put simply, scenes from nature have stripes that tend to cancel each other out, so that when added together no stripes appear in the image.”
“Urban scenes break the rule of nature: they tend to feature regular, repetitive patterns, due to the common use of design features such as windows, staircases and railings. Regular patterns of this kind are rarely found in nature.”

“Because the repetitive patterns of urban architecture break the rule of nature, it is more difficult for the human brain to process them efficiently.”

“And because urban landscapes are not as easy to process, they are less comfortable to look at. Some patterns, such as the stripes on door mats, carpets and escalator stair treads can trigger headaches and even epileptic seizures.”

“We came to these conclusions by measuring the efficiency with which the brain processes images of natural and urban scenes. There are two ways of measuring efficiency; the first is to build simple computer models* of the way that nerve cells compute what we see.”

“Both models show that when the brain processes images that depart from the rule of nature, the activity of the nerve cells is increased, and becomes less sparsely distributed. In other words, such images take more effort for the brain to process.”

“For our own research, Olivier and I designed a computer program that measures how well images adhere to the rule of nature. After running the program, we found that departure from the rule of nature predicts how uncomfortable people find it to look at any given image — whether it’s an image of a building or a work of art.”

We then analyzed images of apartment buildings, and found that over the last 100 years, the design of buildings has been departing further and further from the rule of nature; more and more stripes appear decade by decade, making the buildings less and less comfortable to look at.

“Another way to measure the efficiency of the brain’s visual processes is to measure the amount of oxygen used by the visual part of the brain, located at the back of the head. When the brain uses oxygen, it changes color. We can track these changes by shining infrared light onto the scalp, and measuring the scattered light which bounces back off the brain and through the skull. Typically, oxygen usage is greater when people look at uncomfortable images, such as urban scenes.”

“We found that the rule of nature not only predicts the levels of discomfort suggested by computer models, it also predicts how much oxygen is used by the brain. That is, our brains use more oxygen when we look at scenes which depart from the rule. Since headaches tend to be associated with excess oxygen usage, this may explain why some designs give us headaches.”

People who get migraines are particularly susceptible to the discomfort from repetitive patterns; these patterns increase the use of oxygen (which in those who sufferer migraines is already abnormally high.) The patterns can give rise to a headache, possibly as a result. Indeed, some individuals with migraine cannot function in certain modern offices, because the patterns bring on a headache every time they enter the building.”

“Of course, some repetitive patterns are an unavoidable result of modular construction. But many stripes are there quite unnecessarily, simply as design features — to catch the eye. Unfortunately, they may end up hitting the head, too.”

*One model was built by Paul Hibbard (University of Essex) and Louise O’Hare (University of Lincoln), and another at the University of St Andrews by Olivier Penacchio and colleagues.

The Future is in Good Hands – Teen discovers way to heal brain

Teenager’s brain research is awe-inspiring. It could one day help  Alzheimer’s, ALS, strokes and traumatic brain injury patients.

“When Indrani Das needed motivation, she left the lab. The 2017 winner of the Regeneron Science Talent Search — one of the United States’ most prestigious science and math competitions — enrolled in her local ambulance corps as an emergency medical technician. She needed to be close to people: the kind of lives she one day hopes to improve.”

“It was this thought that there could be a person at the end of this experiment … that drove me to continue,” she said. Answering 911 calls helped with that.
Das has made headlines for engineering a new way to treat brain injuries and neurological conditions — essentially finding a method to aid brain neuron survival. The science is complex, but the potential benefits are easy to translate: a better quality of life for people living with Alzheimer’s, ALS, strokes and traumatic brain injuries.
With 47 million people with Alzheimer’s alone worldwide, that’s a lot of lives.”

Repairing the brain

“Das was educated at the Bergen County Academy for Medical Science Technology, a branch of one of New Jersey’s top public high schools. She describes a government-funded operation that allowed her and her cohort to “push ourselves to our limits” by conducting their own research projects.”
For the curious teen, that meant researching medical conditions considered incurable or irreversible. The brain became a focus. “Neurodegenerative diseases ruin a person’s quality of life,” she explains; “they take away from (a person’s) basic humanity.”
“It was that impact I wanted to understand and to study and to try and repair.”
With support from her parents and biology teacher-cum-mentor Donna Leonardi, Das embarked on her research. She began by growing and manipulating cell cultures, learning how they lived and died.”

Teenager pioneers method to save brain neurons

“I started working with these supporting brain cells called astrocytes (nerve cells that perform multiple functions in the brain, including post-traumatic repair and scarring.),” she says. “I managed to mimic an injury condition by giving them this chemical, which then made (the astrocytes) grow these spikes and start dumping toxic chemicals.”
“Das observed that in a brain injury situation, nerve molecules called glutamate would stop being taken up by astrocytes and would instead pile up around them and nearby neurons. The build-up of glutamate over-stimulates neurons, she says, “causing them to malfunction and die.”

To stop this required some bioengineering. Das used specially engineered microRNA to make the “injured” astrocytes recycle glutamate again. The neurons stopped dying as a result.

“Das’ research won her Regeneron’s $250,000 top prize, an award that opens doors for young scientists and counts 13 Nobel Prize winners among its alumni. Now in college, she’s researching at the Stevens Lab at Boston Children’s Hospital, studying microglia, another type of supporting brain cell.”
“She also hopes her work will prompt further research in brain self-healing and supporting cells, not just neurons. “By attacking the problem from more angles … by looking at factors around these dying cells, we’ll have a better chance at re-establishing a patient’s quality of life.
“I was determined to work as long and hard as it takes to find a way to save these brain cells in disease,” Das says, reflecting on her breakthrough. “I still am.”‘