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The Love of Scent:
(Love Potion No. 9!)

By Dr. Peter W. Kujtan, B.Sc., M.D., Ph.D.

Article first printed in the February 11-12, 2006 issue,
Reprinted on page 20 in the February 24-25, 2007 issue of
The Mississauga News under the feature: Health & Wellness, Medicine Matters.
Dr Peter W. Kujtan

While attending medical school, we were taught about a highly vascular area in the nose that tended to bleed a lot especially when exposed to excessive dry heat. These nose bleeds were considered a nuisance and were often dealt with by scarring the area with cauterization. At the same time, we would learn about seemingly unexplainable behavior as synchronization of menstrual cycles in women who live in close quarters such as college dormitories. For decades, it has been accepted that many animals secrete messenger molecules into the air called pheromones. These messengers account for many animal and insect behavior. For example, the reason ants walk in long thin endless lines is that they follow pheromone trails laid down by other ants. Moths can hone in on each other by following a miniscule trail of hormones as they hit both antennas and derive directionality from this. It seems that we humans also have the ability to communicate using highly volatile substances emitted mostly by our sweat glands. There is an organ found within the vascular reaches just inside the nostrils of many animals called the vomeronasal organs. More convincing evidence is emerging to support the existence of these organs in humans. These tiny cigar shaped structures are part of the accessory olfactory system and are thought to be a fairly primitive structure. The signals work on the subconscious level, and unlike smells, we never know if they are present. The vomeronasal organs are able to pick up small molecules and send signals deep into our brain. This in turn can influence our behavior by increasing hormone levels. For example, if you remove this organ in the male mouse, it simply will not mate with receptive females.

The first pheromones were identified in the silkworm moths during the 1950's. It was a powerful sex attractant called "bombykol". In the 1980's, the first pheromones were isolated in humans and found to be mixed in with underarm sweat. It began as a journey to discover why women who have regular sex with males tended to have more regular menstrual cycles. Regular sex made women more fertile, and seemed to delay estrogen decline. It was soon postulated that women were responding to pheromones produced by their partners. We all know what splendid aromas emanate from sweat, so it was not the odor that was doing it. This soon spurred myths about sexual mind control. Theories were postulated about developing synthetic pheromones to control aggression, stress, depression, dishwashing behavior, etc. Add the internet and mass marketing, and all of a sudden, guys start to think that with a few dabs of some secret elixir arriving in a plain brown wrapper, every female in the bar will follow them home in an aroused trance like state. The truth of the matter is that home brew by mother nature's programming is still the best. The actions in a complex human being are far less predictable and more complex than those found in insects. More experimentation in humans seems to be supporting this contention. Testosterone levels seem to rise in men who are exposed to sweat of ovulating females, yet they seem to have no awareness of this.

It is my personal belief that pheromones have a role in human attractiveness. There are many factors at work that can account for why some people feel comfortable and attractive at first sight. Pheromones may help explain the head over heels love reaction that develops if first meeting factors are optimum. It is well known to be a transient phase in human courting behavior. But the right mood, ambiance, physical cues and other factors seem to be vital in maximizing our pheromone potential. I would not recommend that you go out and purchase internet pheromone products. There are only anecdotal stories that suggest that using these products can lead to greater number of intimate encounters. It is more likely that you will be followed home by amorous moths, mice and ants. A placebo effect may also exist which serves to enhance confidence. Wine, chocolates, flowers and gifts work just as well. In the end, pheromones are most likely a primitive survival mechanism, like many others, that evolved to be resistant to manipulation for a good reason.

As Valentine's Day approaches, take the time to nurture what you have sewn. Relationships are like a good wine. The more time that is taken to let it air and breathe, the better the taste. You can now add sniffing to paying attention and listening as a core behavior to be a successful romantic. It takes on a whole new meaning; because the more you work at it, the more those pheromones subtly do their thing. Keep those nostrils clear and have a wonderful Valentine's Day!

Related links:

About Pheromones from Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences New York State Agricultural Experiment Station. "Pheromones are chemicals emitted by living organisms to send messages to individuals of the same species."
Pheromones in Insects from BugInfo.
Pheromones from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Pheromones from Faculty of Life Sciences, National Yang-Ming University, (NYMU), Taiwan. Contents: Insect Pheromones: Alarm pheromone, Trail pheromone, Queen mandibular pheromone, Sex attractants, Games Predators Play. Pheromones in Mammals: Identification Pheromones, Primer Pheromones, Human pheromones.
Pheromones, in context by Etienne Benson, Monitor staff, American Psychological Association (APA).

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