I love the smell of coffee. I don’t know why, it’s always had that warm, inviting and cozy smell to me. For this reason every once in a while I like to work in coffee shops. I don’t actually drink coffee myself, possibly on very rare every once in a while scenarios but I do love the smell so spend an hour or two in coffee shops to get a little work done and to get that smell-dose that I love.
Out of curiosity I wondered if the smell of coffee did anything to your body, specifically your brain. We all know that if you drink coffee the caffeine effects your body and brain but does anything happen to your brain and even body possibly just by smelling coffee? It turns out that it does!
When you smell coffee the brain changes, dormant genes are activated and you still get a boost.
The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that the levels of 13 specific genes were different between the rats that had stress and rats that had stress that had smelled coffee. They found that 11 of the 13 genes had levels that were higher for the group of rats that had stress but smelled coffee. With the other rats that only had stress their levels were lower.
Proteins are a result of of gene expression, because of this the researchers also looked at proteins and found that they were expressed differently between the two groups of rats. One protein known to have an antioxidant property had a higher expression level in the rats exposed to coffee aroma.
It is believed that the gene and protein expression changes help the sniffer (I had to say it, the sniffer) to better potentially cope with stress and the lack of sleep as witnessed by the changes in the above study.
Beyond that there is an emotional link as well. A smell can bring back a memory because of the way our brain is wired. Our olfactory nerves are connected to the emotion center in the brain. Smelling coffee stimulates olfactory nerve cells. This means that if you have any stored emotional memories linked to coffee for example these may come up as you smell coffee again. What does that mean? It could mean a variety of things.
If you had an abusive father who drank coffee daily the emotional response to coffee by your brain may not be so positive. This can be consciously recognized or even go subconscious under the radar of your knowing. If your loving mother, or loving father drank coffee you may walk into a coffee shop and feel that you are back at home, safe under your parents roof in their loving arms. It’s all subjective to your experience around people who drank coffee (most likely in your childhood) to store these memories and bring them back up again.
Say you had a negative experience with someone who was a coffee drinker what can you do? Would you want to have a either subconscious or conscious negative emotional reaction every time you smell coffee or walk into a coffee shop for the rest of your life? probably not.
Recreate a positive experience around the aroma of coffee. In fact, do this for anything. By doing this you can recreate a positive experience around that smell and get a good feeling and emotional response moving forward as opposed to a negative one. Meet a friend who has a good sense of humor, or is always positive and bubbly at a coffee shop to catch up and little experiences like that will give you a positive feeling when you smell coffee. You are literally wiring (or rewiring) your brain to feel good when you smell coffee. How cool is that?
Not only does smelling coffee activate specific genes and proteins to go to work that potentially allow you to better cope with stress but it can also essentially give you the emotional response you want if you create a positively charged emotional environment to essentially “epigenetic” your way to a good feeling.
Even if you’re not a coffee drinker like me, stop in a coffee shop and smell it every once in a while! Your brain will thank you.
Recommended Reading: 3 Things Every Coffee Drinker Should Know Before Drinking Coffee “Normally” Again