Loss of sense of smell linked to heart disease, study finds

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As we grow older, many of us may start noticing that our sense of smell isn’t what it used to be. This change, while seemingly minor, could be more significant than expected.

Recent research suggests that this decrease in smelling ability could potentially indicate or even influence the onset of heart failure in older adults.

The research, discussed in the Journal of the American Heart Association, builds upon previous studies exploring how our sense of smell, medically known as olfaction, impacts our overall health as we age.

Dr. Honglei Chen, the lead researcher and a professor at Michigan State University, explains that while it’s well-known that a diminishing sense of smell can signal neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and dementia, its implications for other health aspects in the elderly are just now being uncovered.

The ability to smell properly plays a more critical role in our lives than we might think. For example, it affects our enjoyment of food and our safety, such as detecting spoiled food or a gas leak.

Statistics show that by the early 50s, about one in four people experience some form of olfactory impairment. This number rises significantly as people reach their 80s, affecting more than half of this age group.

Researchers have previously linked a poor sense of smell to early signs of cognitive decline, associating it with reduced memory and language skills. It has also been seen as an early symptom of Alzheimer’s disease and a predictor of Parkinson’s disease.

More strikingly, studies have suggested that those with olfactory dysfunction are at a higher risk of death within ten years, hinting at underlying issues like slowed cellular regeneration or long-term environmental toxin exposure.

However, given that only a fraction of excess deaths related to poor sense of smell are accounted for by neurodegenerative diseases, Dr. Chen and his team speculated that the implications of olfactory loss could extend further, potentially affecting cardiovascular health.

To investigate this, the team analyzed data from 2,537 participants aged 70 to 79 from the National Institute on Aging’s Health ABC Study, which began in the late 90s. The participants, who were initially healthy and residing in Pittsburgh and Memphis, were tracked over 12 years.

Their sense of smell was tested using a simple sniff test where they had to identify 12 different items. A score of 8 or lower out of 12 was considered indicative of poor olfaction.

The findings revealed that those with a diminished sense of smell had about a 30% increased risk of developing congestive heart failure compared to those with normal olfactory abilities.

Interestingly, there was no significant link found between olfactory loss and other heart-related issues such as heart disease or stroke.

Dr. Chen pointed out that it is still unclear whether the loss of smell contributes directly to the development of heart failure or merely acts as a marker of some underlying health changes. He suggested that the loss might be related to some sort of “age acceleration,” warranting further research.

This area of study is relatively new and poses many intriguing questions about the relationship between our senses and overall health.

Dr. Khadijah Breathett, an advanced heart failure transplant cardiologist, expressed curiosity about whether the loss of smell might indicate other physiological processes.

She noted that heart disease remains the leading cause of heart failure and found it interesting that the study did not associate olfactory loss with coronary heart disease.

Dr. Breathett also raised the possibility of learning from those who have lost their sense of smell due to COVID-19, as it’s a condition that can persist for a considerable time.

Although the study was conducted before the pandemic, insights from post-COVID conditions could potentially enhance our understanding of olfactory loss and heart health.

While the study does not establish a direct cause-and-effect relationship, it opens up new pathways for potentially improving care for the elderly by targeting and understanding the broader implications of olfactory loss.

This research underscores the importance of considering seemingly minor health changes as potential indicators of more significant health issues.

If you care about heart failure, please read studies about diabetes drug that could revolutionize heart failure treatment, and this drug can be a low-cost heart failure treatment

For more information about heart health, please see recent studies that exercise in middle age reversed worrisome heart failure, and results showing this drug combo can cut risk of stroke and heart attack by half.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

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