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Sniffing Body Odor Tested As an Anxiety Therapy

Sniffing Body Odour Anxiety Therapy
Swedish researchers have proposed that sniffing body odor can be used as a therapy against anxiety. Credit: FotoMediamatic / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

Swedish researchers are currently conducting tests with volunteers to see if smelling other people’s body odor could be beneficial in treating social anxiety. The new study, led by Elisa Vigna of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, was presented last weekend at the European Congress of Psychiatry in Paris.

The scientists are using armpit sweat in their experiments because they believe that the scent triggers certain brain pathways that are associated with emotions. This, in turn, may provide a calming effect for those who suffer from social anxiety.

While the researchers have some early findings, it is too soon to draw any concrete conclusions. They will be presenting their initial results at a medical conference in Paris this week.

The logic behind the research

Our body odor might communicate our emotional state, such as whether we are happy or anxious, to others who can smell it, according to Swedish researchers. This could even elicit a similar emotional response in those who smell it.

To test this theory, the researchers asked volunteers to donate their armpit sweat while they were watching a scary or happy movie. Then, they asked 48 women with social anxiety to sniff some of these samples while receiving mindfulness therapy.

Mindfulness therapy encourages people to focus on the present moment instead of dwelling on negative thoughts. Some of the women were given real body odor samples to sniff, while others were given clean air.

The women who were exposed to the armpit sweat appeared to benefit more from the therapy than those who were not. This suggests that body odor can affect our emotions and our interactions with others.

The sweat produced when a person is happy can have the same effect as when they are scared by a movie, said Ms. Elisa Vigna, the main researcher at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. This suggests that human chemical signals in sweat could play a role in how people respond to treatment.

Since it’s possible that merely being around someone else can have a positive effect, more research is needed to confirm this. To that end, the team is conducting a follow-up study with a similar design, but this time they are including sweat from people who are watching emotionally neutral documentaries, according to Ms. Elisa Vigna.

Do all people have sweat odor?

Sweat on its own doesn’t have a particular scent, according to Harvard Health Publishing. It’s only when bacteria mix with the sweat produced by your apocrine glands that a noticeable odor is emitted.

Moreover, it is also possible that a person may sweat excessively but not smell, according to Cleveland Clinic.

The sense of smell plays an essential role in our emotional well-being. The charity aims to raise awareness about disorders that affect our sense of smell and taste, said Duncan Boak, who works for the charity Fifth Sense.

Losing the ability to smell the people in our lives, such as our partner or children, can lead to feelings of isolation and depression. This is is an initial study, and more research is needed to fully understand the connection between our sense of smell and our mental health.

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