Friday, April 2, 2021

Can Oranges Help You Get Your Sense of Smell Back After Covid?

A case of covid-19 can affect the body in so many ways, causing damage to lungs, heart, and other systems. Did you know it can also cause people to lose their sense of smell, sometimes for weeks to months? In terms of long-term health consequences, losing your smell might sound relatively minor. However, when you stop to think about it, this sense is incredibly important.

Sense of Smell Serves Many Functions

Of course, smell is central to how we experience food and eating. Over 70% of taste is actually smell! But smell also serves many other functions in our lives. Have you ever thought about how the sense of smell is a built-in “safety feature” for our bodies? It keeps us from eating food that has gone bad, alerts us to the presence of smoke and fire, and also lets us know about toxic odors.

Smell helps us bond with others, too. For instance, think about the smell of your grandma’s house, or of your favorite food, or your partner’s shirt. Brings back memories, right? In fact, losing one’s sense of smell, a condition known as anosmia, can even cause depression and anxiety.

A Weird Trend To Try to Bring Sense of Smell Back

Given all this, it's concerning to learn that over 80% of people who develop covid-19 experience anosmia, at least at first. One study found that 15% hadn’t recovered 60 days later, while 5% were still in this situation after 6 months. This situation can be really frustrating. It’s this frustration that has led to the rise of a viral trend on TikTok involving the burning and eating of our favorite fruit…oranges.

This trend seems to have started with a video making claims about a Jamaican remedy for loss of sense of smell. The video shows someone burning a whole orange over an open flame, taking off the blackened peel, and mixing the soft and warm insides with brown sugar to eat. Given all the volatile oils in orange peel, this process must release a lot of strong-smelling orange oils into the air! The orange on the inside has also got to be sweet and fragrant.

Does it Work?

Being of a scientific frame of mind, though, I found myself with some questions. I can see how a burned orange would smell great. But…what does the sugar do? (Besides make it more enjoyable to eat.) Why does the sugar have to be brown? Why not just smell some citrus essential oils? I had questions!

I’m not the only one. In articles I read about the practice of using burned oranges to help recover a lost sense of smell, experts and scientists were pretty skeptical. They point out that there's really no proof that this would be at all effective.

Not Completely Off Base

However...some also said there could be a grain of truth to this idea. Why? Although the part of this process that involved burning oranges and mixing them with sugar is probably silly, smelling strong and fragrant aromas might not be a bad idea for helping people regain their sense of smell. As it turns out, doctors do recommend a process called “smell training” to help people in this situation. In smell training, people with a lost or damaged sense of smell the same few strong aromas daily to try to “retrain” the nose and brain to recognize them. Strong, pleasant odors like mint, rose, and yes, oranges or citrus are often recommended.

Lost your sense of smell? If toasting your oranges and eating them with sugar sounds good to you, it certainly won’t hurt you. If you really want to work on this, though, you might want to try “smell training" for real. These are support groups online for those who are interested in giving this a try.

In the meantime, the delicious, unmistakable scent of oranges, grapefruit, tangerines and other citrus is always enjoyable fresh, sweet, and enjoyable in any context. Yum. 

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