The Five Smells That Predict Your Death

Not being able to smell them is bad news, science says.



I have some gardening cleanup to do this week, including clearing out a patch of wild mint. For once, I won’t mind the chore, because at least I’ll know I’m not going to die in the next five years. Mint, you see—specifically peppermint—was one of five odors a team of researchers recently tested to see if the loss of the sense of smell could predict death. And OMG, it totally did.

The University of Chicago researchers tested 3,000 men and women between the ages of 57 (um, that’s my age) and 85 on their ability to identify five different odors: the aforementioned peppermint, plus leather, roses, orange peel and fish. (The subjects were offered four different possible identifications for each smell.) Five years later, they checked to see how many of the original sniff-pool were still alive. As reported in PLOS, nearly 40 percent of those who failed the ID test had died. Died! Only 10 percent of those who identified the odors correctly cacked in the five-year span. The researchers then controlled for such common and dangerous conditions as diabetes, smoking, heart attack and body mass index, as well as for factors like age, race and sex. No matter how they carved that pie, the fact remained: The lower your smell-test score, the more likely you were to have passed on.

It’s not that the inability to smell is killing people directly, the scientists say; rather, the loss of the ability probably indicates breakdowns in the body’s ability to repair itself. And they noted that those who can’t smell well may lose their appetites, lose interest in personal hygiene, and not be able to detect spoiled food or leaking gas.

So I’ll also be peeling an orange, buying a new handbag, cutting the last few garden roses, and making some fish for my husband tonight—just to keep a finger on my pulse, so to speak.

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