FEB 11, 2017 9:53 AM PST

Do Human Pheromones Exist?

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

Scientists have well-documented evidence that animals and certain insects communicate via chemical signals in excreted oil, sweat, and even urine. These chemicals are known as pheromones, and they act like hormones, but work outside of the body. In particular, pheromone signals often alter the behavior of members of the same species. For example, pheromones may elicit sexual arousal, mark territory bounds, or bond a mother to her offspring(s). But while animals can transmit these chemical signals, do humans also have the capacity to produce and be affected by pheromones?

Despite the slew of internet ads for pills that claim to boost pheromones, the science behind this olfactory phenomenon is still inconclusive. In the 1970s, experiments by Martha McClintock showed that a woman's menstrual cycle was shifted just by sniffing the sweat of other women. Indeed, this is one of the few evidence for the existence of human pheromones. Other studies have yielded inconsistent results, and some even question the reliability of the McClintock experiments.

As the hunt for a human pheromone continues, be mindful of "love potion" products that promise everything from increased attraction to higher sex drive.
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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