Smell the Coffee and Wake the Genes

Jerry Kennard Health Pro
  • News that just the smell of coffee helps reduce the stress of sleep deprivation may come as welcome news to those who need a coffee boost to get them started. Not only does the aroma of coffee smell good, it appears to activate a group of genes and proteins in the brain.


    Study author Han-Seok Seo of the Seoul National University, points out that this is, "the first effort to elucidate the effects of coffee bean aroma on the sleep deprivation-induced stress in the rat's brain."


    The research team induced a state of stress in rats by depriving them of sleep. Comparisons were then made with rats who were similarly deprived of sleep but who were not exposed to coffee aroma. As reported in the Journal of Agricultural & Food Chemistry, the brains of rats exposed to coffee aroma showed different levels of activity in 17 genes and some brain proteins changed in ways that have calming or antioxidant functions.

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    That's all very well, you're thinking, but I'm not a rat. You could of course adopt the role of laboratory rat as one interesting question posed by the researchers is whether people who need to stay awake during the night would be better of smelling coffee rather than drinking it?


    Smells evoke very strong emotions in people. Our olfactory receptors are linked almost directly to an area of the brain known as the limbic system, generally viewed as the seat of emotion. Give someone a smell test and it can take a while before they are able to identify the odor. This is because the search time takes longer when the memory has to be retrieved from deep within the brain.


    There is plenty of evidence around to show that smells affect both our mood and our behavior. In one Las Vegas casino the amount of money gambled in a slot machine increased by 45 percent when the area was sprayed with a pleasant fragrance.


    Perhaps you didn't know that the smell of vanilla has become a dominant ingredient in many perfumes, soaps and other products. Vanilla fragrance, which may have some associations with childhood memories of sweets, ice cream, and other sweet products, is also known to have a calming effect. This has been demonstrated in several experimental situations but only in terms of responses to pure vanilla fragrance, not substances where vanilla is blended.


    So, next time you wake up to smell the coffee, take a moment to consider what else you surrounded yourself with in order to modify the way you feel and behave.

Published On: June 26, 2008