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10/02/2014 01:50 pm ET

Smell Test Could Sniff Out When You'll Die

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They say you should trust your gut, but maybe it's really the nose that knows. Turns out, the olfactory organ we all take for granted can do more than let you know when it's time to take out the garbage -- it can sniff out death, too.

A new study says your sense of smell, or lack thereof, could be a strong indicator of whether you'll live another five years. Researchers at the University of Chicago had 3,000 men and women, between their late-50s and mid-80s, perform a smell test and then followed up with them five years later to see who was still living.

Subjects were given sets of four scents and asked to sniff out recognizable everyday odors, including peppermint, orange, rose, leather and fish. At a five-year follow-up, one in eight subjects had died. The greatest predictor of death? Smell.

Nearly 40 percent of those who had failed the smell test died, while 19 percent of those who showed signs of moderate loss of smell died, and just 10 percent of those who had a healthy sense of smell died. In addition, when adjusting for other death factors like age, socioeconomic status and overall health, the group who had lost their sense of smell had an even higher likelihood of dying within a five-year span.

"We think loss of the sense of smell is like the canary in the coal mine. It doesn't directly cause death, but it's a harbinger, an early warning system, that something has already gone badly wrong, that damage has been done. Our findings could provide a useful clinical test, a quick and inexpensive way to identify patients most at risk," the study's lead author Jayant M. Pinto of the University of Chicago said in a release.

While it may seem an unusual sort of medical test, smell tests have been used in other diagnostic ways as well. A 2013 study involving sniffing peanut butter through one nostril at a time could be used to predict the future onset of Alzheimer's. And just earlier this year, researchers tested a device they say could detect lung cancer, just by smelling a person's breath.

Go ahead and wrinkle your nose.

HuffPost

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