Smell Your Way to Better Digestion

If you’ve struggled with digestive issues, you’re not alone. Many people struggle with common symptoms such as gas, bloating, heartburn, loose stool or constipation. It’s important to talk with your medical provider about your symptoms, but sometimes simple shifts in eating patterns are the first place to start. We call these ideal eating patterns “food hygiene” and it’s not about what you eat so much as how you eat.

Here’s my favorite example. Did you know that smelling yummy food kicks off a neurological signal that directly influences the stomach to make digestive juices? This increased activity in the stomach not only improves the stomach’s ability to do its job, but it also initiates a cascade of digestive hormones that get the rest of the digestive organs--the liver, gallbladder, pancreas, small intestine and large intestine--ready to participate in processing your meal.

Great digestion happens when activity and function are well-timed and when there are adequate digestive juices. Smelling our food helps with both by sending the digestive system the message that we’re going to be eating soon. What’s even cooler is that this effect is not limited to smell. Taste, sight or even the idea of something delicious will also trigger this beneficial reaction.

This is great news, because it means that enjoying the smells, sights or inner visions your food is great for your digestion. (I always love learning when something that’s enjoyable is also good for me). There’s also a failsafe to this digestion-promoting function – it doesn’t work if you aren’t hungry. So, if you’re you’ve finished a meal or you’re not well, it won’t have the same effect.

Here are a few tips to help take advantage of this digestive response to delicious stimuli:

  • Take a moment to imagine your next meal in detail before you prepare it or buy it.
  • Participate in preparing your meal as much as possible to smell and see your meal as it is coming together.
  • Enjoy a quiet moment before you begin eating, taking note of the aroma or the sight of your meal.

Be sure to schedule an appointment to discuss your digestive symptoms--I love helping people feel better in their bellies!


  1. Mark Feldman, Charles T. Richardson, Role of thought, sight, smell, and taste of food in the cephalic phase of gastric acid secretion in humans, Gastroenterology, Volume 90, Issue 2, 1986, Pages 428-433.
Katy Morrison, ND, LAc