A new research has concluded that some of the internal organs of humans, including the heart and lungs, have the ability to recognize smells of food and beverages!
Olfactory receptors, which allow us to sense odors and were initially thought to exist only in the nose, have been identified in other parts of the human body, says the study presented recently at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society in New Orleans.
This discovery helps solve an ancient mystery: numerous compounds of foods and drinks emit smells but our nose only detects a small part of them.
Peter Schieber, leader of the project, said that “only a small part of odorous components and those stimulating our taste receptors are processed by our nose and tongue receptors, most of the molecules go in the stomach and reach the bloodstream”.
Schieber and his colleagues focused on biogenic amines, potent chemical messengers which are found in many foods and beverages, such as chocolate, hot cocoa, meat, milk and cheese.
The researchers isolated primary blood cells in the blood samples obtained from participants to see how they respond to different chemical substances of various food odors. Unexpectedly, blood cells acted just as a “nose” that follows the smell of fresh bread, moving towards smelly compounds extracted from tasty food like chocolate.
Schieber explained that “blood cells – just like the cells of the nose – are olfactory receptors”.
Furthermore, the researchers discovered that these receptors are also found in other parts of the human body such as the heart or lungs.
“Does this mean that the heart “smells” the steak you just ate? We do not know the answer yet,” said Schieber.
“When you eat, all the sensations perceived by the receptors are “translated” by our brain in a general sense of the flavor you expect from that food,” said Schieber.
The nose acts independently, so that the brain “decides” whether to accept or reject a food based only on smell. However, once a food has been swallowed, other receptors go into action detecting chemical structures of bioactive compounds and sending this information to the brain.
At the same time, Ester Feldmesser of the Weizmann Institute of Science and her colleagues discovered that olfactory receptor genes are expressed in tissues outside the nose, including the sexual organs. It is therefore likely that during sex the human body subconsciously “sniffs” with regions other than the nose.
Schieber and his colleagues focused more on food and beverages. They used information from research to better understand how attractive or unattractive foods taste and smell. Coffee, for example, contains more than 1,000 olfactory compounds, but only 25 interacts with olfactory receptors in the nose. It is possible that the remaining receptors interact with olfactory receptors located in other areas of the body, informing the coffee lovers that they will enjoy a delicious cup of their favorite beverage.