Researchers at UC-Berkeley say they’ve made a “really novel” discovery that smelling food before eating it could cause weight gain. In a Cell Metabolism article published last week, the team writes that the body’s sense of smell seems tied to its decision to store fat instead of burn it off. Their study was conducted on mice only (so apply all the standard disclaimers), but the correlation was still pretty remarkable. In short, three groups of mice — a regular set, a set whose sense of smell was briefly disabled, and a third set of “super-smellers” — were all fed what the authors call a high-fat “Burger King diet,” but the mice with messed-up olfactory systems barely gained any weight at all, especially compared to the other groups.
The normal mice literally doubled in size as they worked their way through this all-Whopper-style meal plan, while the mice that couldn’t smell only put on 10 percent more weight. Also, fat mice would shrink back to appropriate size once their sense of smell got wiped out — they didn’t change their diet, and the lost weight was virtually all from fat.
The researchers found it all pretty exciting, and add that their trick could even theoretically work on humans. People could have their sense of smell temporarily paused, fooling the brain into burning calories instead of storing them up in the body. However, they’re quick to note that “there are risks,” the big one being that it turns eating food into a task as mundane as refueling a car, since the person would effectively taste nothing. “People that don’t have a sense of smell can get depressed,” the lead researcher explains. “They lose all pleasure of eating.”
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