Your sense of smell, called olfaction, plays a role in your health and your quality of life. Olfaction can alert you to the presence of dangerous and toxic material nearby to help you avoid disease, or can allow you to enjoy the flavors in the foods you eat. Some vitamin deficiencies can damage the nerves required for olfaction, and cause you to begin to lose your sense of smell.
Olfaction and Nerve Damage
Your olfactory system relies on a complex network of nerves. Tissues within your nose contain millions of nerve cells. Each of these cells connect to and communicate with specific regions in your brain, sending nerve signals that your brain translates into your sense of smell. For example, scent molecules released from coffee help activate nerve cells in your nose. Upon activation, those nerve cells signal to your brain, and your brain then interprets those nerve signals to understand that you're smelling coffee. Neuropathy, or nerve damage, can disrupt signaling to the olfaction centers of your brain and dampen your sense of smell.
One vitamin whose deficiency can potentially cause a loss of smell is vitamin B-12, or cobalamin. Severe vitamin B-12 deficiency damages the nerves throughout your body, including the nerves required for olfaction. As a result, individuals with severe vitamin B-12 might lose or diminish their sense of smell, as well as experience numbness, nerve pain, tingling or even seizure. Vitamin B-12 injections or nasal gels can help relieve a cobalamin deficiency, but might not reverse the nerve damage that causes loss of smell.
A vitamin E deficiency might also cause you to lose your sense of smell. Vitamin E is a natural antioxidant that helps to protect your nervous system, and severe vitamin E deficiency can lead to nerve damage, which might diminish your sense of smell, disrupt your visual system or cause muscle weakness. If you suffer from a vitamin E deficiency, talk to your doctor about the risk of nerve damage and losing your sense of smell.
Avoiding Vitamin E and B-12 Deficiencies
Consuming vitamin E and vitamin B-12 in your diet can help to prevent vitamin deficiencies that can affect your sense of smell. In general, adults required approximately 2.4 mcg of vitamin B-12 and 15 mg of vitamin E daily, according to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University. However, in some cases, digestive issues might prevent the proper absorption of these vitamins. If you have a digestive disorder, consult with your doctor to discuss the risks of developing a vitamin E or B-12 deficiency, and how best to prevent these deficiencies.