man in hospital setting in bed wearing oxygen mask
Julie Hambleton
Julie Hambleton
January 16, 2024 ·  4 min read

The Body Knows When Death is Near, and It Begins in Your Nose

Death is a mysterious and often unsettling subject for many people. Throughout history, humans have tried to understand and anticipate the end of life. Surprisingly, there is some scientific research suggests that our sense of smell may hold the key to unlocking the secrets of approaching death. It turns out that our nose has the uncanny ability to leave clues as to when death may occur, both in terms of being able to smell when someone else’s death is near, as well as the loss of smell as a predictor of our own future health.

Smelling Death: A Sixth Sense?

One intriguing aspect of our sense of smell is its potential to detect the approach of death in others. Many anecdotal stories have been shared about individuals who claimed to have experienced a certain smell prior to the death of a loved one. These experiences hint at the existence of a mysterious sixth sense, specifically tied to our olfactory system. 

Several theories attempt to explain this phenomenon. One explanation suggests that as the body approaches death, it produces particular chemicals or odors that are imperceptible to most people but which some individuals with heightened olfactory senses can detect. Another theory claims that the sense of smell may be linked to subtle shifts in our emotional state, allowing us to pick up on the imminent loss of a loved one. It’s not so much that we realize that we are smelling death, but rather that, thanks to our olfactory glands, we begin to sense that it is near. (1)

While scientific evidence in this area is limited, few interesting studies have been conducted. One study conducted by scientists at the University of Chicago found that animals, such as dogs or even cats, are able to detect chemical changes in individuals with certain medical conditions, including cancer. Similarly, it is possible that humans, with a heightened sense of smell, may also have the ability to sense imminent death. There are even examples of animals who live in hospitals and long term care facilities who almost always accurately predict when a patient or resident is going to pass away. (2, 3)

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Loss of Smell: A Predictor of Future Health

Alongside the ability to smell the approach of death in others, the loss of smell in oneself may also serve as a predictor of future health. Several scientific studies have indicated that a decline in olfactory function may be associated with certain health conditions, including neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. It can also be a signal of respiratory and cardiovascular problems. (4)

Research has shown that the olfactory system often deteriorates before other symptoms of these diseases become apparent. This suggests that a loss of smell could serve as an early warning sign, helping individuals and healthcare professionals identify potential health issues and intervene at an early stage.

In fact, a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that elderly individuals with a diminished sense of smell were more likely to die within five years compared to those with a healthy sense of smell. This suggests that the loss of smell could be an important indicator of overall health and mortality risk, offering valuable insights and opportunities for preventive care.

The Future of Smell-Based Predictions

As our understanding of the human body continues to advance, we are discovering new connections and insights into how various systems and senses interact. The olfactory system, often overlooked in comparison to other senses like sight and hearing, seems to hold great potential in predicting both the approach of death in others and the anticipation of future health outcomes. Further research is needed to validate these intriguing findings. Scientists are actively exploring the chemical changes occurring in the body before death, as well as the impact of olfactory dysfunction on overall health and mortality risk. With an improved understanding, it may be possible to develop diagnostic tools that harness the power of smell, providing individuals with timely and potentially life-saving interventions.

The Nose Knows?

The notion that “the body knows when death is near, and it begins in your nose” is a fascinating area of study. The ability to smell death in others and the loss of smell as a predictor of future health opens up new avenues of research and understanding in the fields of medicine and human biology. By exploring and harnessing the power of our sense of smell, we may unlock valuable insights into life and death, ultimately improving the quality of our well-being.

Keep Reading: Gut Bacteria and Your Kid’s Behavior: Research Sheds Light on a Link

Sources

  1. The smell of death: evidence that putrescine elicits threat management mechanisms.” Frontiers. Arnaud Wisman and Ilan Shrira. August 28, 2015.
  2. Dogs And Cats Can Detect Illness.” CBS News. Nan Talleno. November 19, 2013.
  3. Animals learn to fine-tune their sniffs.” U Chicago. William Harms. October 30, 2012.
  4. Olfactory Dysfunction Predicts 5-Year Mortality in Older Adults.” PLOS One. Jayant M. Pinto, Kristen E. Wroblewski, David W. Kern, L. Philip Schumm and Martha K. McClintock. October 1, 2014.