Do you like sniffing people’s armpits? Whether on 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.

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 work 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.

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, as part of the study, the research team surprisingly found 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 for the positive therapeutic effect, but rather the fact that the sweat itself is 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.

Quelle: BBC, The Guardian, The Telegraph, EBC