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Love Potions

Do human pheromones really exist?

When thinking about pheromones I think about women syncing periods when they live together. I lived with a friend once who had super irregular cycles and apparently I’m susceptible to something that she emits because when living with her, I would go to the bathroom and without warning the crimson wave would wash upon the toilets shores. “F**k you Cat!” I’d yell from the bathroom. “I’m sorry!!” her whimpered reply would announce.

But enough about that, because apparently menstrual synchronisation has never been proved, but more about that cluster fuck later.

So what are pheromones?

pheromones are generally recognized as single or small sets of compounds that transmit signals between organisms of the same species. They’re like hormones but outside our body.

Since pheromones were first defined in 1959, scientists have found many examples of pheromonal communication. The most striking of these signals elicits an immediate behavioural response. For example, the female silk moth releases a trail of the molecule bombykol, which draws males from the moment they encounter it. Slower-acting pheromones can affect the recipient’s reproductive physiology, as when the alpha-farnesene molecule in male mouse urine accelerates puberty in young female mice.

The problem with humans

Yet to demonstrate definitively that pheromones are at work when ‘Aunty Flow’, researchers need to point to the molecules responsible, which they have not yet done. To date, scientists have collected evidence for possible pheromone effects but have not definitively identified a single human pheromone.

Some say it’s because the effects in humans are not as dramatic as our animal relatives. Instead,

“our responses to odours are confounded by other sensory inputs like sight and sound, past experiences, learning, context—and not to mention laws.” Says chemist George Preti of the Monell Chemical Senses Center, “Maybe once upon a time we could react more viscerally,”

While others, namely Tristram D. Wyatt say that we’ve been looking at the wrong pheromones for 50 years of research because somewhere along the line scientist got (figuratively) into bed with big money perfume companies and falsified the results of the discovery of the four accepted human pheromones.

Both are partly true and specifically Wyatt’s argument is why I won’t be including an explanation of the complicated names of the inexistent pheromones.

So, what do we know about Human pheromones? And how can we trust what we hear?

A huge amount of studies that you hear will use the extracted or synthesised supposed pheromone molecules and present them to subjects in quantities billions of times stronger than ever found naturally. This doesn’t have to be very much, a small vile of the substance is vastly different to a few molecules floating in the air. So results from these tests might show completely different outcomes than if presented naturally.

This is why studies done that get subjects to directly smell a body odour are much more reliable.

Being an informal blog, and not a scholarly article I won’t go explain this any further, instead;

here are some more reliable facts about the effects of human Pheromones (Please note the careful structure of this title)

sniffing the sweat of first-time parachute jumpers can increase a person’s ability to discriminate between ambiguous emotional expressions. The implication is that chemicals in the jumper’s sweat might constitute an alarm signal, which puts the recipient on high alert and makes them more attentive to details.

Tears shed by women contain chemical signals that decrease sexual arousal and testosterone levels in men. So smelling sad tears can tell men that sex is off the table. (Personally I’d hope my boyfriend would pick up on that one without having to smell my tears)

And lastly, the most reliable of all occurrences and a true step into finding out whether human pheromones really do exist is how babies know where the nipple is even before they have opened their eyes. As Wyatt succinctly yet vividly puts it

“The secretion produced by lactating human mothers from areola (Montgomery’s) skin glands around their nipple may contain a good candidate human pheromone. The glands combine sebaceous and milk glands. If the secretion, taken from any mother, is put under any sleeping baby’s nose, the baby responds with sucking and nipple-search behaviour “

So there you have it. Humans might not be as dissimilar to our furry friends as we thought.

References:

Doucet S, Soussignan R, Sagot P, Schaal B. 2009. The secretion of areolar (Montgomery’) glands from lactating women elicits selective, unconditional responses in neonates. PLoS ONE 4, e7579.

Gelstein, S., et al. Human Tears Contain a Chemosignal.  doi:10.1126/science.1198331 (2010) Science.

Mujica-Parodi LR, Strey HH, Frederick B, Savoy R, Cox D, Botanov Y, et al. (2009) Chemosensory Cues to Conspecific Emotional Stress Activate Amygdala in Humans. PLoS ONE 4(7): e6415. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0006415

Wyatt, Tristram D.. “The search for human pheromones: the lost decades and the necessity of returning to first principles.” Proc. R. Soc. B 282.1804 (2015): 20142994. Web. 05 April. 2017.

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