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Moderate Drinking Can Sharpen Sense Of Smell

Israeli researchers have found that a few drinks improved an individual's ability to smell, though too many had the adverse effect.

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By John Lavitt

08/27/14

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In a surprising discovery that appears to challenge the belief that drinking dulls the senses, Israeli researchers have found that alcohol actually sharpens a person’s ability to smell when drunk in moderation.

A recent study published in the peer-reviewed journal Behavioral Brain Research by Israeli researchers from the Weizmann Institute of Science and the Edith Wolfson Medical Center explained how consuming alcohol can actually boost the sensitivity of the human olfactory system.

In the first experiment, 20 volunteers smelled three different liquids; two of which were the same and one of which was different. In the initial test, the participants were given two seconds to say which smell was not like the others. This test was repeated six times with various liquid matchups to ensure accurate readings of each participant's olfactory sensitivity.

In the next step, the participants drank either 35 milliliters of vodka in grape juice or the juice alone and asked to repeat the smell test. The vodka drinkers saw improved results, while the juice drinkers stayed the same. The intriguing results showed moderate alcohol intake improved their ability to distinguish between smells.

In a second experiment, the researchers actually went to public establishments. They asked random patrons in local bars to take a scratch 'n sniff test before allowing the researchers to measure their blood-alcohol content. The researchers found that in both the controlled and bar-based studies, people with a moderate amount of alcohol in their systems fared better in odor differentiation tests, as compared to people with no alcohol in their systems.

At the same time, researchers also found that too much alcohol in the blood severally hampered a drinker's ability to smell. Whether the cause of this ancillary result is an actual dampening of the olfactory system by increased alcohol intake or a simple loss of focus on account of inebriation remained undetermined.

The authors of the study plan to uncover the actual cause in future studies through the examination of brain scans done on the drinkers. It goes without saying, of course, that such high-tech scans could not be done at the local pub.

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