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Could armpit sweat treat anxiety?

Posted on the 13th April 2023

Sweating man

Swedish researchers have revealed an unusual therapy for social anxiety – other people’s body odour.

Using armpit sweat, scientists have been probing the link between smells and the brain pathways linked to emotions and their potential to create a calming effect.

Presenting their initial findings at the EPA conference in Paris, the team believes human body odour might communicate our emotional state and even elicit similar responses in others who smell it.

During the study, volunteers donated armpit sweat collected when they were watching either a scary movie or a happy one.

A cohort of 48 women with social anxiety then sniffed the samples in conjunction with mindfulness therapy that focuses on the present rather than replaying negative thoughts and situations.

Some of the participants were given genuine body odour to sniff, while others - the control group - were given clean air instead.

Those who were exposed to the sweat appeared to do better with the therapy.

While it is still too early to determine if the study results are reliable, the connection between smells and emotions is a growing field of interest.

Aromas are detected by receptors in the upper part of the nose. Signals from these are then relayed directly to the limbic system, a brain region that is associated with memory and emotions.

Studies have shown that losing the sense of smell can cause depression and feelings of isolation and despair.

Meanwhile, a 2021 study called for people struggling to regain their sense of smell after falling ill with Covid-19 to undergo ‘smell training’ rather than being treated with steroids.

According to research published in the journal International Forum of Allergy & Rhinology, smell training involves sniffing four things that have a distinctive, easily identifiable and familiar smell - for example, oranges, mint, garlic or coffee - twice a day for several months.

Related: Covid mental health impact not as great as first thought

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