Humans Can Smell Diseases

February 27, 2014

Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article. 

1. overdrive /ˈoʊvərˌdraɪv/ (n.) – an intensely high level of activity
Example: Our body experiences an overdrive during exercise.  

2. elicit /ɪˈlɪsɪt/ (v.) – to produce or bring about something
Example: Physical exercise elicits heavy breathing and sweating.

3. stale /steɪl/ (adj.) – referring to food or drink that is no longer fresh
Example: I threw the stale bread into the garbage can.

4. ramp up /ræmp ʌp/ (phrasal v.) – to greatly increase the level of something
Example: Eating chocolates and candies ramps up a diabetic’s sugar level. 

5. saline /ˈseɪlin, -laɪn/ (adj.) – containing salt
Example: Seawater is highly saline.


Read the text below.
A new study claims that people can actually smell when a person is sick or has a certain disease.

Professor Mats Olsson of Sweden’s Karolinska Institute led a team of researchers to look into the ability of humans to detect disease by smelling. The scientists say that a person’s immune system can go into an overdrive after a few hours of exposure to bacteria. This overactivity elicits a certain smell that may be a sign of a particular illness.

According to the researchers, scientific evidence shows that diseases actually have particular smells. For example, a diabetic person may smell of acetone while a person suffering from scrofula, an infection of the lymph nodes, may smell like stale beer.

To further prove this claim, the researchers asked eight healthy people to participate in the study. Some participants were injected with a form of lipopolysaccharide (LPS), a toxin made from bacteria and is known to ramp up the immune system. The rest of the participants, on the other hand, were injected with a saline solution.

Within four hours, the participants wore very tight shirts to absorb their sweat. Afterwards, 40 volunteers were then asked to smell the shirts.

The volunteers reported that the shirts from the group injected with LPS had a more intense and unpleasant smell. They also noted that the said shirts had an unhealthier smell.  

From these results, the researchers inferred that the greater immune system response a person has, the unhealthier his or her sweat would smell. While further research is still required, researchers say that this result is very significant especially in identifying markers for illnesses.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.  

Discussion A

·         Do you think the sense of smell can really distinguish certain illnesses? Why or why not?
·         Do you agree that the result of this study is significant? Explain.

Discussion B

·         Why is it important to detect illnesses in advance? Explain.
·         What are other ways of detecting illnesses early on? Explain.


February 27, 2014