Surprising New Discoveries About Humans’ Sense of Smell

What your nose knows can save lives

Joy could smell a musky odor coming from her husband’s neck area but she didn’t think much of it, until six years later, when he got diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.  At that time, Joy and her husband were attending a Parkinson’s disease support group, and to Joy’s astonishment, she detected the same musky smell coming from the other Parkinson’s disease patients.  She decided to tell her doctor who contacted a research lab, which performed a controlled experiment with her.

The researchers selected 12 people, 6 healthy individuals and 6 people with Parkinson’s disease, and asked them to wear similar new T-shirts for one day.  Then Joy was asked to guess, just from the smell of the T-shirts, which test subjects had Parkinson’s disease and which ones were healthy.

Joy correctly identified 5 healthy individuals and 6 with Parkinson’s disease, but said that one of the healthy subjects also had the telltale musky odor, therefore putting him in the Parkinson’s disease group. The researchers concluded from Joy’s imperfect performance that it wasn’t clear if her accurate assessments of 11 of the test subjects were real, or due to a fluke of random chance.

However, to the researchers’ astonishment, eight months later that supposedly “healthy” individual was also diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, making Joy’s nose 100% accurate.

Not only could Joy diagnose Parkinson’s disease by smell only, but she could diagnose it several months before the first symptom appeared.

Originally Published on Psychology Today

© Dr. Chris Gilbert, MD, PhD

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