Fasting, a cure for anosmia?

It has been a couple of years since I wrote about anosmia and my lack of sense of smell. I mostly forget about it because it’s only certain things my nose doesn’t pick up and I don’t generally notice until someone asks me to smell something and I have to tell them “I won’t be able to smell anything.”

That was until today (Sunday).

Backtrack to Friday evening and I had my last meal ahead of a 36-hour fast.

I woke up on Saturday morning and the sky was a little cloudy and the air still cool; we’ve had a couple of weeks of sunshine and a distinct lack of rain, meaning that if I don’t get up early then I miss out on a run, but not on this day.

Once back from my run I had a lazy day ahead of me, and a day fuelled only by water (actually, a healthy person can survive for quite some time on their natural fat stores). The afternoon was a drowsy one, and after some reading and sunbathing with the cat, I had a nap for a few hours (not in the sun!). My body felt like it had no energy due to not eating, but strangely any sensations of hunger were very fleeting – I found it odd that I was clearly tired because of a lack of food yet my body wasn’t bugging me with hunger pangs to tell me I needed to eat. It was quite an annoying feeling but I can only put this down to low blood-sugar and my body’s inability to tap into its other fuel reserves (too used to being fuelled regularly from eating).

I was in bed early that night, but awoke early too (which is something I like).

At first my body still felt like it had no energy and my thighs ached from the run the day before; something that run wouldn’t normally do but such aches and pains are similar with fasting as they are when we get the flu.

I wanted to get on with finishing the edit on my next Brian Goes Biking video for Youtube, so I dragged myself to my computer.

Strangely, once I got lost into my work my body woke up somewhat, which was fortunate because then it was time for the short cycle over to my sister’s house for Sunday Lunch – something I was especially looking forward to this weekend since I hadn’t eaten since Friday!

As I arrived, feeling a little light-headed after the ride, I got a distinct whiff of “fish and chips” which I assumed was emanating from one of my sister’s neighbour’s houses. I thought little of it, but when I passed through my sister’s kitchen she informed me that she had already got the lunch on the go… which included roast potatoes which were in the process of roasting in a deep-fat-fryer. Was it that which I could smell from a few doors away!? We weren’t sure.

Whilst then chatting with my sister she mentioned how nice her fresh basket of laundry smelled, and with neither of us considering that I would struggle to smell it, she held the basket under my nose with the comment to “smell this!” and indeed I did! It was only then that I realised that something was up (in the actual positive sense) with my sense of smell, since fresh laundry is one thing that usually means little to my nose, along with flowers. Perhaps indeed this was an extra-nice smelling basket of laundry.

Then another thing got my nose up. After having a cup of tea outside I ventured back in to prepare more of the lunch and after a few minutes my sister came back inside… followed by a whiff of cigarette smoke. My sister smokes and since I spent 30 years living with smokers, and with the addition of a lack of smell, I would rarely notice a family member having a cigarette, and hardly ever would I notice the smell after they’d finished and then walk past me, but not today. My sense of smell was all back!

How this coincides with fasting is that it is common for the sense of smell and taste (which are linked) to be heightened during a fast; a survival mechanism (I believe) that is used to lead us to seek food when we have gone without for a length of time. This is similar to the strange cravings a pregnant woman might have, luring her towards foods of a particular makeup that their unborn child requires (that’s my theory anyway, but it seems logical, and I’m sure I’ve heard it explained scientifically).

It’s difficult to monitor ones own sense of smell, or lack of it, especially as in my case since I don’t know when I stopped being able to smell well – I think it was a gradual process and likely linked to when I was using nasal sprays to combat hayfever many years ago. You can lose your sense of smell instantly from injury (to the nose or head for example), and then I think people are more likely to notice that they can’t smell any more, and they will know why if they put 2-and-2 together; it not so easy if the loss is gradual, such as when smokers desensitise their sense of taste.

A few years ago I fasted as part of Ramadan, but this only involved eating (and drinking) only after sunset, or before sunrise (if I got up early enough) for the duration of a month. The challenge for me here was the hunger pangs and ensuring I ate all what I would normally eat in a day, but only in that one window, to ensure I could still continue my cycling as normal, but back then I was still driving. These days I cycle everywhere I need to be, and that includes cycling each week day for work. I can therefore only consider fasting at the weekends (the level of drowsiness after 24 hours into this fast had me on my back, and in no state to ride a bike), but I certainly intend to try this fasting again; I will see how I feel throughout the week. I partly expect my sense of smell to gradually deteriorate again, or perhaps I miraculously cured it; I will try and stay aware of what I can and cannot smell, and should the sense decline it will be pleasing to see it return again with another fast.

Perhaps there is a part of my diet that my body suffers with which leads to my sense of smell shutting down; by fasting and then avoiding different foods when I return to eating could help me pinpoint the culprit (starting with things like milk). Part of my reason for this fast was I wanted to get out of the bad habit of binge eating on my lazy days at home where, ironically, I have a lack of energy; every time we eat we raise our insulin levels, and the process of eating causes stress on the body and uses up energy; but participating in fasting or intermittent fasting we can reduce this issues. I also wanted to give my body a quick chance to experience hunger, and while I didn’t really get that feeling, I did get the tiredness, making me appreciate the energy (or stimulation) that I do get from food – by being aware of this I can use what I consume to fuel me to better effect. A longer fast would generally see a person enter into a state of ‘ketosis’, but I can’t envisage being able to use fasting to do this, but who knows; continuing with weekend fasts might see me get to that point one day. Some people suffer all sorts of pains when fasting for a few days or more while the body rids itself of toxins built up from a poor diet, but I think my diet is actually pretty good; I just wanted to cut out the binge-eating and experience hunger, and observe what happens when my body is fuelled again; I just wasn’t expecting my sense of smell to return!

(It should be added, so I will, that because sufferers of anosmia are all different, fasting may not be a cure for all, it may not even be a cure at all, and anyone considering fasting should do their research first.)

Here is my more recent update:
https://bmhonline.wordpress.com/2020/05/20/my-anosmia-update

And if you missed the link above, here is that video I was editing:

8 comments

  1. Well done. I always admire people who can fast: I find it extraordinarily difficult, not because I overeat generally but because my blood sugar plummets and I start to feel faint. I’m sure if I could get past that I’d be able to do it but on your own in a house full of food it’s very difficult.
    I lost my sense of smell about ten years ago, but I think in my case it’s connected to memory loss, not sure fasting would bring it back. Still you never know

    • I’m pretty sure I was experiencing symptoms of low blood sugar, but looking back, yes it dropped, but then it just remained at that level; thankfully not at a level where I felt I was about to keel over. It seems to be a dangerous aspect that is little-mentioned in topics of fasting. Perhaps some things could better prepare us for a fast, such as addressing dietary issues, cutting out snacks, and gradually increasing the time between meals until the number of meals in a day can be reduced.

  2. I too believe fasting helps with anosmia! I have allergies so severe due to where I live to where I would go without smell & taste for weeks 😦 I decided to start fasting (since I found myself OVER-eating due to not being able to taste anything which in turn made me lose the feeling of being “full”) After fasting for 24 hours I had noticed that I could actually smell! I was shocked and then when I ate some fruits to break the fast I could actually taste it. So now whenever I experience allergies leading to the anosmia I try fasting and boom helps quite a bit. Great read!

  3. Wow, I was googling ‘return of taste and smell after fasting’ and found your post! I have had no taste or smell for around 18 years. Recently I had a traumatic fall and stopped eating from the stress of it, and again later for 24 hours when I had the operation for it. And lo and behold, my taste and smell came back – really strongly, particularly taste – and stayed for about a week. It’s just beginning to fade today. I had wondered about this before as it had come back very, very briefly before when I’d not eaten as usual. I wonder if the ENT people know this?

    • Thank you for sharing your experiences Susie. I have yet to read anything specifically referring to ENT, anosmia and fasting.

      • Amazing, isn’t it? It’s such a basic thing, and there are plenty of sufferers who probably have no idea. I can barely believe that after all these years I’m tasting and smelling again.

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