What Effects do Male Pheromones Have on Women?

Published: 24th July 2008
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What Effects do Male Pheromones Have on Women?

You might never guess from all the hype and hoopla about male pheromones that investigating how they affect women's hormone levels is a very recent research activity. The effect of pheromones on physiology in animals is quite clear, but only since the late 1990s have scientists attempted to prove that these effects occur in humans, too.

The primary design of most research studies trying to pin down the relationship between male pheromones and female physiology focuses on how women respond to male sweat or perspiration. Pheromones are secreted primarily by the apocrine glands in the human armpits (axillae). By acting on the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland in the brain, pheromones increase the secretion of the gonadotropins, luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH).

Several studies track a rise in one or both of these hormones after women were exposed to male pheromones. Exposure to male pheromones typically happens through smelling an extract of male sweat or a T-shirt that has become imbued with male sweat after being worn for an extended period.

In women, LH and FSH increase the blood levels of estrogen, progesterone, and androgens. The first two of these are essential to female reproductive function. Even though androgens are male sex hormones, women also secrete them via their ovaries in small amounts. In women, androgens help to maintain sexual desire and general energy levels. Male pheromones help regulate the production of these hormones in women, to the extent that consistent exposure to male pheromones in women with a history of irregular menstrual periods created regular cycles of a similar length. In particular, exposure to male pheromones increases the production of LH, which stimulates ovulation.

Another study found that exposure to one specific pheromone-androstadienone-caused blood levels of cortisol in women to rise. While cortisol isn't specifically related to sexual attraction or reproductive health, it's an extremely important hormone. Under the influence of the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland secretes ACTH, or adrenocorticotropic hormone. "Adrenocortico-" refers to the cortex of the adrenal glands, small pieces of hormone-rich tissue located atop each kidney. "-Tropic" means 'directed toward or having an effect on'. So adrenocorticotropic hormone simply means a hormone that is specifically targeted toward the adrenal cortex.

In response to ACTH, the adrenal glands secrete cortisol. Known as the 'stress hormone,' cortisol is a critical part of the body's overall response to stress. It increases blood pressure and blood sugar to ready the body for muscle action. It also suppresses the immune system temporarily, allowing the body's reserves to be directed toward the 'fight or flight' response of stress.

This particular hormone was tested because it's easy to measure. No blood tests were required, because the cortisol levels were determined by testing the women's saliva. It's also a great marker for the effect of male pheromones on the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland in the brain.

The important news about the effect of androstadienone on cortisol levels is that it proves definitively that one specific component of male sweat affects women's hormone levels in profound and wide-ranging ways. It's been widely cited as the first real proof that male pheromones do, in fact, affect the hormone levels of women.
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