Perspiration odors tend not to be among the scents that socially bind people together. If someone stinks, we usually distance ourselves. People with social anxiety should reconsider, according to a study.
Do you like sniffing people’s armpits? Whether in a crowded tram or in an open-plan office, most people don’t perceive the smell of sweat as a blessing, but rather as an olfactory nuisance. Strong body odor has the conceit of poor hygiene, it’s something to literally wrinkle your nose at. Fie, devil! In short: sweat has a bad reputation – possibly wrongly. Because, as a Swedish research team claims to have found out, the smell of sweat could have a therapeutic effect, it is said to be able to relieve anxiety.
As part of a small pilot study, the scientists tested the effects that mindfulness therapy combined with the smell of sweat can have on people with fears of social situations. The research team had previously taken armpit sweat samples from volunteers after they had watched excerpts from scary or feel-good films. Some of the patients were then exposed to these odors during the two-day mindfulness therapy. The results show that the therapy actually seems to have worked far better for them than for the control group that was exposed to pure air. According to this, their anxiety levels decreased by 39 percent after the treatment, those of the control group by 17 percent.
The body odor of others increases our well-being
But why is that? Everyone sweats. Some more, some less. On average, the body releases two liters of water a day. As a rule, fresh sweat does not smell. The well-known unpleasant odor arises when the decomposition process occurs and butyric acid is formed. Since bacteria are responsible for this, which feel particularly comfortable in warm, humid environments such as the armpits, odors are particularly common there. Each individual has an individual smell of their own.
It is known that there is a strong connection between our sense of smell and our well-being, explains Duncan Boak of Fifth Sense, an organization that does public relations for smell and taste disorders, the “BBC”. Losing the ability to smell other people, like your partner or children, can lead to depression and feelings of isolation, he says.
Does our sweat tell others how we feel?
The Swedish researchers also assume that our emotional states are reflected in our body odors, thereby conveying feelings such as happiness or fear. They even suggest that these smells can then trigger similar emotional states in those who smell them. However, the research team surprisingly found during the study that the emotional state in which the sweat was produced had no influence on the result. “The effect was the same,” said study leader Elisa Vignar, according to The Guardian.
“So it could be that the chemo signals in human sweat influence the reaction to the treatment,” explains the scientist from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. It is therefore possible that the nature of the sweat is not relevant to the positive therapeutic effect, but rather the fact that sweat is actually used. Vignar says: “It could be that the mere presence of another person has this effect, but we have yet to confirm that.”
The results of the pilot study have now been presented at the European Psychiatric Congress in Paris. A follow-up study is already underway. This is structured in a similar way, but should also include as emotionally neutral a sweat as possible.
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I’m Caroline, a journalist and author for 24 Hours Worlds. I specialize in health-related news and stories, bringing real-world impact to readers across the globe. With my experience in journalism and writing in both print and online formats, I strive to provide reliable information that resonates with audiences from all walks of life.