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Dr. MICHAEL MOSLEY: Can armpit transplants really banish the body odor?

Have you ever borrowed a T-shirt from a friend or relative, sniffed it and immediately recognized their unique ‘scent’?

But if someone makes you aware of your personal scent, you struggle to feel something other than the pong of your environment.

Although we may become immune to our own natural scents, we collect much more information about other people and our environment than we are aware of.

An American study even discovered that blindfolded students could find their way on a windy path by using their scent only as a guide.

Although we may become immune to our own natural scents, we collect much more information about other people and our environment than we are aware of. Some scientists claim that natural body odors can lure or deter even romantic partners

Although we may become immune to our own natural scents, we collect much more information about other people and our environment than we are aware of. Some scientists claim that natural body odors can lure or deter even romantic partners

We all unknowingly produce an invisible cloud of scents that is picked up by others and, some scientists claim, can even lure potential romantic lovers.

On the other hand, some of us give off an unpleasant odor that is a deterrent to potential partners.

What does your scent say about you?

Pheromones – The snuffable aphrodisiac

Some scientists have suggested that the powerful influence of odor can be caused by chemicals called pheromones.

These are chemical signals that many mammals and insects produce and that can unknowingly influence behavior. They are detected by an organ in the nose of the animals known as the vomeronasal organ.

These signals are used in the animal kingdom for various reasons, including sexual attraction.

For example, the female silkworm moth produces a particularly powerful pheromone that, floating on the wind, can attract males from miles around.

Male mice release pheromones into their urine that accelerate the speed at which young female mice reach puberty, thereby speeding up reproduction.

Claus Wedekind’s “Smelly T-shirt Study” provided more evidence of the profound influence of human odor. Male students were asked to wear normal cotton T-shirts for 48 hours and female students assessed the intensity and “sexiness” of the scent (stock image)

So if these powerful scents do wonders for the sex lives of animals and insects, do they certainly do the same for us humans?

Not necessary. First, the vomeronasal organ functions differently in humans and may not detect pheromones.

And if we cannot detect them, what is the point of producing them? Despite decades of searching, a human pheromone that touches our libido has yet to be identified.

But there is tempting evidence that the aromas that we produce change our behavior, except that we avoid those who emit unpleasant gases.

A now famous American study, conducted in the 1970s, looked at young female students who lived in a shared dormitory and discovered that over time all their periods seemed to be synchronous.

The researcher at Wellesley College in Massachusetts suggested that pheromones produced by some women were picked up by others, changing their menstrual cycle.

It happened that many attempts to repeat the findings failed and it now seems likely that they were due to coincidence.

The so-called “Smelly T-shirt study” by Swiss zoologist Claus Wedekind, however, provided more concrete evidence of the profound influence of human scent.

He enrolled 44 male and 49 female students and asked the men to wear regular cotton T-shirts for two days and nights. Washing was forbidden, just like anything that could mask their natural scent. So no curries, drinks or aftershave.

After 48 hours the men put their smelly T-shirts in cardboard boxes with holes in them. The happy female students sniffed the boxes and scored the intensity, pleasantness and “sexiness” of the scent.

Dr. Wedekind had also taken blood samples from all students to measure genetic differences between volunteers.

Do you have a question for Dr. ir. Mosley?

Email drmosley@mailonsunday.co.uk or write it on The Mail on Sunday, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT.

Dr. Mosley can only answer in a general context and cannot provide personal answers.

He tested the claim that one of the things we are looking for in a partner is someone who is very different from ourselves, genetically, to reduce the chance of inbreeding and to increase our ability to fight infection.

It turned out that female students did score sex shirts that were worn by men with different genes as sexier than those by men with similar genetic profiles to themselves.

I recently tried the same experiment for a TV show about sexual attraction. As an extra twist, we included a T-shirt worn by a gorilla from a nearby zoo.

Our results confirmed those from the original experiment, and although the Gorilla T-shirt had a few female admirers, the volunteers were generally not enthusiastic.

Regarding the dubious “pheromone sprays” that are sold online and claim to make you sexually irresistible – don’t waste your money.

Most claim to contain something called androstanol, a steroid pheromone with a musky odor, that has built a reputation as a powerful aphrodisiac.

Androstanol has been shown to be a big change – if you are a pig. The few studies that have been done on humans suggest that it doesn’t really do much for us.

Bacteria can keep that whip at bay

Just as human aromas can excite us, they can also scare people away.

Most of us use scents to mask the scents that come out of our armpits, but for some unfortunate people, no amount can be washed regularly and deodorants can dilute their scent.

That, says the Belgian microbiologist Dr. Christopher Callewaert – also known as “Dr. Oksel”, because they harbor many particularly fragrant bacteria, called corynebacterium.

While most people use scents to mask the scents of our armpits, for some, no amount of detergent or deodorant can dilute their scent. Dr. microbiologist Christopher Callewaert says it's because they are a scented bacteria called corynebacterium (stock image)

While most people use scents to mask the scents of our armpits, for some, no amount of detergent or deodorant can dilute their scent. Dr. microbiologist Christopher Callewaert says it's because they are a scented bacteria called corynebacterium (stock image)

While most people use scents to mask the scents of our armpits, for some, no amount of detergent or deodorant can dilute their scent. Dr. microbiologist Christopher Callewaert says it’s because they are a scented bacteria called corynebacterium (stock image)

He says: “Some people with a bad body odor are too psychologically upset to talk to strangers or even leave the house.”

How to increase your sense of smell

1. Practice makes perfect

Studies show that, just like everything else, our sense of smell improves with practice.

Try a good sniff of coffee in the morning before you swallow it, with special attention to the different aromas.

2. Losing weight

A study in New Zealand found that extreme weight loss improved people’s sense of smell.

Because scents play a crucial role in stimulating appetite, scientists believe that the link may be due to obesity-related changes in metabolism that affect communication between the gut and brain.

3. Take a drink

Research shows that small amounts of alcohol improve odor performance.

But drinking a lot (more than two small glasses of wine for women or one and a half liters of beer for men) has the opposite effect.

Alcohol eliminates the braking responses of the brain and increases the sharpness of the senses.

A few years ago he performed the world’s first underarm transplant, which was not as dramatic as it sounds.

He took bacterial sticks from the armpits of a nice smelling volunteer and wiped these cotton buds off the armpits of a smelly volunteer who had carefully washed his armpits with antibacterial soap.

After various applications, the smelly armpits seemed to improve.

The use of other people’s sweat as a form of deodorant has its obvious disadvantages, so Dr. Callewaert has now produced what he calls a “probiotic deodorant.”

This is a spray with a relatively high concentration of a harmless bacterial strain, staphylococci, which are linked to the production of much more pleasant scents.

The idea is that staphylococci from the spray displace the bacteria in the armpits that cause the pong.

Tests show that the spray does not work for everyone, but most volunteers were delighted with the results.

Now Dr. Callewaert plans to produce a version to compete in the deodorant market for several billion pounds.

In the meantime, his advice is to those who are plagued by BO, to wear cotton clothing and to avoid excessive use of perspiration, as these can promote the growth of fragrant bacterial strains.

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