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Study: Scents might help treat depression

Study: Scents might help treat depression
Study: Scents might help treat depression 02:57

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Are there certain scents or odors that have a powerful impact on you? 

They can be triggers for all of us and a new study out of Pitt is showing how smells can help people with chronic depression.

From the cheese powder in your mac and cheese to coconut oil and well beyond, scents hit us like time warps.

"We all have a very strong emotional reaction and usually have very specific memories when we smell odors," said Dr. Kymberly Young, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh.

In a new study published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. Young says that when it comes to recall, scents go where words fall short.

"When we use words, they don't cue memories as quite as as vivid," Dr. Young said.

The study used 24 different scents from Vicks Vaporub, to ketchup, to one subject's flood of memory to her first date with her future husband.

"The smell of coffee put them back in that mood in that state of when they met their husband WITH that excitement, that happiness that pleasure," Dr. Young said.

There's a reason why realtors tell people to bake cookies or bread before an open house, and that's because it reminds you of the smell of grandma's kitchen growing up and the smells are going directly to the emotional centers of your brain. 

In the treatment of depression, counselors want to get patients to recall and work through the source of depression.

"This study really shows that it's not that they don't have the memories," Dr. Young said. "It's that they have trouble getting to the memories and using odors helps them get to those memories."

Additionally, Dr. Young says when depressed subjects were cued by scents or odors, they were more likely to remember positive events.

She says sparking more vivid memories can improve problem solving.

This also applies to people not suffering from depression as scents can spark great memories in detail and help put you in a good mood and different scents can impact you in many different ways. 

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