Sniffing stinky armpits relieves social anxiety, according to new research published in StudyFinds.
The mental disorder can be triggered by everyday activities such as meeting strangers, speaking on the phone – or even going to work.
Now scientists have found odors from other people’s sweat can help treat the phobia.
(Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash)
The overwhelming fear of social situations typically develops during teenage years – and can have long-term affects.
Symptoms include feeling sick, hot flushes, trembling or even panic attacks.
They were reduced by almost 40 percent when patients underwent mindfulness therapy while exposed to human “chemo-signals.”
They were from the underarm sweat of volunteers – commonly called BO or body odor.
Project leader Elisa Vigna, of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, said: “Our state of mind causes us to produce molecules – or chemo-signals – in sweat.
“They communicate our emotional state and produce corresponding responses in the receivers.
“The results show combining these chemo-signals with mindfulness therapy seem to produce better results in treating social anxiety than can be achieved by mindfulness therapy alone.”
Current treatments help sufferers to be at the moment by focusing on their senses and concentrating on their breathing – even when alone.
Vigna said: “We found individuals who undertook one treatment session of mindfulness therapy together with being exposed to human body odors showed about 39 percent reduction in anxiety scores.
“For comparison, in the group receiving only mindfulness – the control group – we saw a 17 percent reduction in anxiety scores after one treatment session.”
Social anxiety, or phobia, is a common mental health condition where people worry excessively about being with others.
Cases are believed to have risen since the pandemic following lockdowns – particularly among women.
The disorder will affect more than eight million people in the UK at some point.
It can be crippling – and potentially wreck a person’s life. They may turn down a promotion that involves public speaking – or shun friends and work parties
They may even dread shopping or going on holiday because of the excessive worry about company.
Sweat samples were collected as people watched short clips from movies such as horror flick “The Grudge” and comedies like “Mr. Bean’s Holiday” and “Sister Act.”
This was to see if specific reactions while perspiring had differing effects.
The 48 patients, all women aged 15 and 35, were divided into three groups of 16 people and, over a period of two days, underwent mindfulness therapy for social anxiety.
They were simultaneously exposed to one of the different odors while a control group smelt only clean air.
Vigna said “We found the women in the group exposed to sweat from people who had been watching funny or fearful movies responded better to mindfulness therapy than those who hadn’t.
“We were a little surprised to find the emotional state of the person producing the sweat didn’t differ in treatment outcomes – sweat produced while someone was happy had the same effect as someone who had been scared.
“So there may be something about human chemo-signals in sweat generally which affects the response to treatment.
“It may be simply being exposed to the presence of someone else has this effect, but we need to confirm this.
“In fact, that is what we are testing now in a follow-up study with a similar design, but where we are also including sweat from individuals watching emotionally neutral documentaries.
“This should allow us to tease out 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 Swedish team is hopeful it may lead to a new way of helping people with the condition by increasing effectiveness of e-health interventions such as meditation apps.
It may also provide an additional opportunity for those who don’t respond to these.
Human sweat is complex in the way it carries information. The researchers are working with Italian scientists who have identified over 300 separate compounds.
The researchers hope to isolate the molecules which are causing the effects seen in the study to improve therapeutic potential.
Vigna presented the findings at the European Congress of Psychiatry in Paris.
Dr. Julian Beezhold, of East Anglia University who is secretary general of the European Psychiatric Association, said: “We welcome this study, looking at one of the least researched senses and its interaction with mental health.
“The findings are interesting, but will need to be robustly replicated by independent researchers.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker