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Restoring Sense of Smell with Essential  Oils

By Jodi Cohen

A person enjoying the scent of essential oil from a small amber bottle.

“I have some friends who have lost their sense of smell and taste due to COVID-19. Is there an essential oil you recommend to ‘awaken’ these senses? Thank you!”

I received this customer question and wanted to share some of the strategies that worked for me when I lost my sense of smell for a week as a result of an extremely mild case of COVID-19.

I used essential oils, specifically strong smelling oils like Parasympathetic® blend and Peppermint, to retrain my sense of smell based Dr. Robert Melillo’s Olfactory Smelling Exercises which he details in his book Disconnected Kids.  Melillo has worked with thousands of clients who have limited to no sense of smell when they start and has found that “the sense of smell is improved through training.”

Melillo trained Brain Balance Centers echo this success, noting that “more than 90 percent (of clients) have significant problems with their sense of smell. . . We have found that in almost all cases when we do a comprehensive brain stimulation program (which includes smell activities), we can restore the sense of smell to normal.”

Restoring the sense of smell has significant neurological benefits both in preventing neurodegenerative disease and in balancing the two hemispheres of the brain.


Smell Loss is Correlated with Neurological Dysfunction

Impaired smell is one of the earliest and most common symptoms of both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

A review published Lancet Neurology proposes neurotransmitter dysfunction as a possible cause of smell loss in a number of neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. More than 90 percent of Parkinson’s patients report some level of olfactory dysfunction.

What’s more, nearly all of those diagnosed with moderate to severe forms of the illness have odor-identification issues.

In fact, studies have shown impaired smell to be even stronger than memory problems as a predictor of cognitive decline in currently healthy adults. It is especially useful for forecasting the progression from mild cognitive impairment  to full-blown Alzheimer’s.

Smell is such a powerful indicator of disease that not having trouble with smell is often enough to rule out the disease. “If a person scores very well on a smell-identification test, then you can be pretty sure he or she is not going to have Parkinson’s, at least within the next four years,” according to neurologist and researcher G. Webster Ross of the Veterans Affairs Pacific Islands Health Care System.

This correlation between health and smell can be correlated to the nasal mucosa—the layer of mucus lining the inside of the nose—which is hypothesized to be a conduit through which some environmental toxin can gain access to the brain, potentially triggering Parkinson’s and disrupting smell along the way.


How Sense of Smell Correlates with Deficits in the Right Hemisphere in the Brain

Smell networks can be used to balance the two hemispheres of the brain. Melillo explains that functional dysfunction–a developmental imbalance that makes two hemispheres of the brain not communicate properly–is often correlated with smell deficit.

When the brain is out of balance, all of the other systems may become dysregulated and out of balance.

By stimulating the right hemisphere with essential oils to trigger the sense of smell, you help balance the two hemispheres of the brain and support healthy brain function.

More specifically, deficiencies or poor communication between the two hemispheres of the brain where one hemisphere (operating great) has stopped communicating with the other hemisphere (not operating so great) can contribute to mental, emotional and physical symptoms.

Identifying the deficiencies and then stimulating them using your senses, like smell, helps to activate those pathways and grow them so they are no longer deficient, which helps to restart the communication between the brain hemispheres and “wire” them back together creating lots of connections/links.

Smell is specifically linked to our memories, our emotions and our taste. It is smell that gives the taste of food the actual flavor. Smell networks – especially in the right side of the brain – are the foundations of the social networks and nonverbal communication. Improving sense of smell on the right side of the brain often correlates with an improvement in eye contact and social skills. Research shows that many of the social networks in the brain are related to our sense of smell.

Our two primary smell pathways—the olfactory bulb and the vomeronasal system (an auxiliary olfactory sense organ located in the soft tissue of the nasal septum, in the nasal cavity just above the roof of the mouth) —are involved in social and sexual behavior, according to research.

Additional research shows that aspects of human behavior can be influenced by odors without conscious awareness, and activation of brain regions involved in emotion has been found in response to putative pheromone odors.


Left Brain vs. Right Brain

Essential oils can be strategically inhaled through specific nostrils to stimulate the different hemispheres of the brain.

As you may know, the human brain has two hemispheres: the right and the leftThese hemispheres control different functions. The left brain is responsible for logic, while the right brain is responsible for creativity, imagination, and intuition.

The loss of smell can impact both hemispheres of the brain, but it seems to impact the right hemisphere more frequently.  By restoring your sense of smell, you can help to restore right hemisphere function.  To better understand how this can support your mental, physical and emotional health, I wanted to share more information about the two hemispheres of the brain below:

The Right Brain

The right side of the brain helps you see the bigger picture so you can better assess problems and come up with innovative strategies to solve them.  What’s more, the right brain contributes to emotional intelligence – the ability to understand yourself and be empathetic towards others.

The right brain is also in charge of moving the big muscles, leading it to control your posture, balance and gait. It is also the spatial side of the brain. It allows a body to feel itself in space by controlling both balance and what is known as proprioception: the  ability to know where the body is relative to gravity and in relationship to itself and others.

The brain’s nonverbal communicator also happens to be its right side. It reads other people’s body posture, facial expressions, and tone of voice, to better interpret intentions and emotions and understand what other people are thinking or feeling. Nonverbal communication is the foundation of socialization; therefore, the right brain is the social brain.

The right side of the brain is the more emotional side. It helps a person feel their own emotions and also read emotions in others (i.e. emotional intelligence). It allows us to be in touch with our own body and emotions, like gut feelings, intuition and empathy.

The  right  brain also  operates the  sensory controls,  so it senses and feels the whole body. This is because the right side borders the part of the brain known as the insula cortex, in which you can feel the internal sensations from the gut, heart, and lungs that allow you to feel emotion.

The right brain is responsible for our self-awareness or our sense of self. It is governed by what is known as avoidance behavior, so it is the cautious brain. It is the part of the brain that keeps you safe. Before the curious left brain can approach something, the right brain has to give its consent that it is safe. Being in charge of avoidance makes the right brain the keeper of negative emotions, such as fear, anger, and disgust. And because  the right brain is so cautious and sensory, it is responsible for attention. It controls impulses. It will stop you from doing something, especially when socially inappropriate.

In my book Essential Oils to Boost the Brain & Heal the Body, I note that: “Anxiety can be triggered by over-activity and dominance of the right frontal lobe of your brain. The right brain processes the emotional aspects of the human experience, giving you empathy and compassion, but in overdrive, the right brain can contribute to heightened emotions and anxiety.”

Essential oils can be strategically inhaled on one side only or topically applied to stimulate the specifically side of the brain and help to activate and balance function. Inhaling or topically applying essential oils can increase perfusion, or blood flow, to the targeted brain hemisphere which helps to stimulate the hemisphere and balance the brain.

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The right hemisphere helps to control the immune system. It inhibits it and prevents it from overreacting, so it doesn’t turn on its own protective antibodies. The right hemisphere also controls most life-supporting automatic reactions, like digestion and the controls that regulates heartbeat.

The right brain is very attuned to the sense of smell and taste– responsible for determining if a smell is good, and therefore the person  or object is good, or bad, meaning the person or object should be avoided. It also handles receiving information from the auditory system.

The right hemisphere of the brain is known to support the following:

  • Creativity and Arts
  • Reasoning and problem solving
  • Attention, memory and the ability to learn new information
  • Social communication (not interrupting) and non-verbal cues (like shrugging)
  • Organization, logic sequencing and planning
  • Intuition
  • Daydreaming and Imagination
  • Emotions ‘Holistic thinking
  • Focus on the big picture
  • Large muscle control
  • Avoidance behavior and Caution
  • Negative emotions
  • Math reasoning
  • Reading comprehension
  • Implicit memory
  • Suppresses immune system

Left Brain

The left side of the brain is detail oriented. It focuses on the details more than the big picture and breaks the world up into small, discrete pieces, and it analyzes every piece step-by-step, looking for a pattern to emerge.

It is more analytical, sequential, logical, objective, and rational, with a focus on language skills, and academic subjects like math and science.

The left brain is responsible for emotional regulation and deficiencies may compromise your ability to control emotional reactions that may contribute to overwhelming emotions and feelings like guilt or shame for no reason. To that point, depression is believed to be a result of decreased activity in the left side of the brain. Neuropsychiatric studies “suggest that depression could arise from primary abnormalities in cortical areas such as the left frontal cortex”

Poor language skills are a hallmark of a left brain imbalance, demonstrated through problems with reading and spelling due to difficulty identifying the sounds of letters. This impact speaking ability and musical aptitude as well.

Those with left brain imbalances may be prone to chronic infections, like colds and ear infections. They may also have an abnormal or irregular heartbeat, called an arrhythmia.

The left hemisphere of the brain is known to support the following:

  • Verbal and non-verbal communications.
  • Reading and Writing
  • Computations, Sequencing, Logic and Mathematics
  • Thinking in words, converting sounds to language and translating meaning.
  • Critical and linear thinking and analysis
  • Responsible for emotional functions and regulates avoidance behavior.
  • Small muscle control
  • Linear thinking and focus on facts, logic, sequencing and details


Dr. Robert Melillo’s Olfactory Smelling Exercises

Melillo recommends smell distance detection exercises to strengthen the left and right hemisphere of the brain.  He suggests covering the label on the following oils and inhaling to detect smell.

Hold the oil a few inches from your nose and inhale deeply  It’s important to vary the oils and use different scents to help strengthen smell detection.

Which Oils?

Melillo recommends the following oils for each brain hemisphere:

Right Hemisphere weakness – stimulate the right nostril only using strong scents like:

Left Hemisphere weakness – stimulate the left nostril only using pleasant scents like:


How to Stimulate Your Sense of Smell

Hold the first oil about 12 inches from the nostril and try to detect the smell  If you can’t move it an inch closer. Continue until you detect the smell  When you can, try to name the scent  Next, take a little essential oil and place it on the collar of your shirt under the nostril that you are stimulating  Vary the smell each day as much as possible

Repeat this 2-3 times daily with the goal of correctly identifying the smells.


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About The Author

Jodi Cohen

Jodi Sternoff Cohen is the founder of Vibrant Blue Oils. An author, speaker, nutritional therapist, and a leading international authority on essential oils, Jodi has helped over 50,000 individuals support their health with essential oils.