Is Sweat a New Cure for Social Anxiety?

Something not so pleasant-smelling may have some pleasant benefits

Man wiping sweat off his face with a towel.
Specific human odors, called "chemosignals," may have benefits when paired with mindfulness therapy.
Getty Images/fStop

Turns out taking a whiff of the body odor emanating from the person standing next to you might just be the next, more natural step in treating social anxiety. New research from a study suggests that specific human odors in sweat, referred to as “chemosignals,” could be used to increase the benefits of mindfulness therapy, a practice that’s shown to be helpful in alleviating anxiety and depression symptoms. 

As reported by Healthline, the study looked at 48 women — all diagnosed with social anxiety and between 18 and 35 years old — who went through two days of mindfulness therapy while being simultaneously exposed to either collected sweat samples or clean air. These odorous extracts were taken from the same women before mindfulness therapy began. The women were originally split into three groups and told to watch film clips that elicited different emotions, such as happiness and fear, and samples were collected on sweat pads during the process. The sweat was then “artificially synthesized,” serving as the basis of a “computer-controlled odour delivery system,” which omitted the samples during the experiment. 

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In the researchers’ preliminary findings, they found that the odor-exposed group had a 39% reduction in their anxiety scores — based on physiological, behavioral and social objectives — while there was only a 17% reduction in the group that only received therapy. 

“The benefit that our research could bring is a non-invasive method of treatment enhancement for people that suffer from anxiety,” Elisa Vigna, the lead researcher of the study, told Healthline. “By enhancing different forms of treatment that can be easily done independently at home, we also aim at reducing the pressure on the health care system whilst improving patient choice.”

While other researchers and experts said there’s still more work to be done, they expressed their intrigue in the study to Healthline, noting that this could result in a more natural option for those looking to treat anxiety without experiencing side effects from psychiatric medicine.

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