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Sweating it out: Human body odor can help treat mental health issues

[Apr. 5, 2023: JJ Shavit, The Brighter Side of News]


Patients who underwent mindfulness therapy while being exposed to human ‘chemo-signals’ experienced reduced social anxiety.. (CREDIT: Creative Commons)


New research has shown that exposure to human body odours, specifically sweat, extracted from other people may be able to enhance treatment for certain mental health conditions.


The study, which was presented at the European Congress of Psychiatry in Paris, showed that patients who underwent mindfulness therapy while being exposed to human ‘chemo-signals’ experienced reduced social anxiety compared to those who underwent mindfulness therapy alone.


 
 

Lead researcher Ms Elisa Vigna, from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, explained that the human body produces molecules in sweat that communicate an individual’s emotional state and that these molecules can elicit corresponding responses in receivers.


Combining these chemo-signals with mindfulness therapy was found to be more effective in treating social anxiety than mindfulness therapy alone.


 

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Social anxiety is a common mental health condition characterized by excessive worrying about participating in social situations. It can impact interactions within the workplace, relationships, and everyday situations, such as shopping or holidays.


The study involved collecting sweat from volunteers who watched short clips from movies that were chosen to elicit specific emotional states. Researchers then recruited 48 women between the ages of 15 and 35, all of whom suffered from social anxiety, and divided them into three groups of 16 people.


 
 

Over a period of two days, each group underwent mindfulness therapy for social anxiety while being exposed to different odours obtained from sweat samples of people who had seen different types of video clips. The control group was exposed to clean air. The clips from fearful movies included content from horror films such as The Grudge. The 'happy' clips included material from Mr. Bean's Holiday, Sister Act, and others.


Image from the horror film "The Grudge". (CREDIT: Sony Pictures)


The researchers found that the group exposed to sweat from people who had watched funny or fearful movies responded better to mindfulness therapy than those who had not been exposed to sweat. Surprisingly, the emotional state of the person producing the sweat did not differ in treatment outcomes.


Sweat produced while someone was happy had the same effect as sweat produced when someone was scared by a movie clip. This suggests that there may be something about human chemo-signals in sweat generally that affects the response to treatment.


 
 

The study found that individuals who underwent one treatment session of mindfulness therapy while being exposed to human body odours showed a 39% reduction in anxiety scores, compared to a 17% reduction in anxiety scores for those who underwent only mindfulness therapy.



The researchers hope that this finding may lead to a new way of helping people with social anxiety disorder, potentially increasing the effectiveness of standalone e-health interventions or providing an additional opportunity for those who do not respond to current treatments.


Human sweat is complex and variable in the way it carries information. The researchers are working with analysts at the University of Pisa to identify over 300 separate compounds in human sweat. They hope that if they can isolate the molecules responsible for the effects seen in the study, therapeutic use will become easier.


 
 

This work is part of the EU-funded Horizon2020 project POTION (“Promoting Social Interaction through Emotional Body Odours”).


Dr Julian Beezhold, Secretary General of the European Psychiatric Association at the University of East Anglia, commented that the findings are interesting but will need to be robustly replicated by independent researchers.


Schematic of sweat glands in the skin. (CREDIT: iStock)


The study is a proof-of-concept, and the researchers are embarking on a larger study to confirm the findings. This study will also include sweat from individuals watching emotionally neutral documentaries to determine whether any potential therapy benefits stem from the unconscious perception of specific emotional signals or whether it is simply to do with human presence, irrespective of emotion.


 
 

The potential implications of this study are significant. Social anxiety disorder is a prevalent and often debilitating mental health condition that affects millions of people worldwide. If exposure to human body odours can enhance treatment for this condition, it could lead to a new avenue for treatment, offering hope for those who currently struggle with social anxiety disorder.







For more science news stories check out our New Discoveries section at The Brighter Side of News.


 

Note: Materials provided above by The Brighter Side of News. Content may be edited for style and length.


 
 

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