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The Smells of Reproduction and Body Odor

The following is an article from The Annals of Improbable Research, now in all-pdf form. Get a subscription now for only $25 a year!

Research about the smells of human bodies
compiled by OttoDidact, Improbable Research staff

Garlic Ingestion and the Odor of Amniotic Fluid
“Garlic Ingestion by Pregnant Women Alters the Odor of Amniotic Fluid,” Julie A. Mennella, Anthony Johnson, and Gary K. Beauchamp, Chemical Senses, vol. 20, no. 2, April 1995, pp. 207-209. The authors, at Monell Chemical Senses Center, Philadelphia, report:

Amniotic fluid samples were obtained from 10 pregnant women undergoing routine amniocentesis procedure.... Randomly selected pairs of samples, one from a woman who ingested garlic and the other from a woman who ingested placebo capsules, were then evaluated by a sensory panel of adults. The odor of the amniotic fluid obtained from four of the five women who had ingested the garlic capsules was judged to be stronger or more like garlic than the paired samples collected from the women consuming placebo capsules.

Peculiar Odours in Newborns: Spicy Food
“Peculiar Odours in Newborns and Maternal Prenatal Ingestion of Spicy Food,” G.J. Hauser, D. Chitayat, L. Berns, D. Braver, and B. Muhlbauer, European Journal of Pediatrics, vol. 144, no. 4, November 1985, p. 403. The authors, at Tel Aviv Medical Center, Israel, report:

Four cases of newborn infants with peculiar smells are described. In two, the sharp odour was identified as cumin, one smelled of fenu-greek and one of curry. All these babies were born to mothers who ingested spicy food prior to delivery. In one case, the foul-smelling amniotic fluid led to a spurious suspicion of amniotitis.

(Image credit: Flickr user Lou Bueno)

Reproductive Sniffing, Long Unassessed
“Sperm-Activating Odorous Substances in Human Follicular Fluid and Vaginal Secretion: Identification by Gas Chromatography–Olfactometry and Ca2+ Imaging,” Constanze Hartmann, Annika Triller, Marc Spehr, Ralf Dittrich, Hanns Hatt, and Andrea Buettner, ChemPlusChem, vol. 78, no. 7, July 2013, pp. 695–702. (Thanks to Veronique Greenwood for bringing this to our attention.) The authors, at University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Ruhr-University, RWTH-Aachen University, and Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging, all in Germany, report:

Fluids of the female reproductive tract have so far—to the best of our knowledge—not been investigated for odor molecules.

Pause: Botox and Body Odor
“Amelioration of Body Odor After Intracutaneous Axillary Injection of Botulinum Toxin A,” M. Heckmann, B. Teichmann, B.M. Pause, and G. Plewig, Archives of Dermatology, vol. 139, no. 1, January 2003, pp. 57-59. (TECHNICAL NOTE FOR NON-SPECIALISTS: “Axillary” means: pertaining to the armpit.) The authors, at Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich, Germany, report:

Body odor is a ubiquitous phenomenon.... Sixteen healthy volunteers were injected with botulinum toxin A in one axilla and 0.9% sodium chloride solution in the other axilla in a randomized, double-blinded fashion. After 7 days, body odor was assessed by a T-shirt sniff test. A significant reduction of odor intensity was observed for the botulinum toxin A-treated side. The smell was also rated significantly less unpleasant. CONCLUSIONS: These findings suggest that botulinum toxin A can ameliorate or even improve body odor...

(Image credit: Genia Brodsky and Noam Sobel of The Weizmann Institute)

Impact of Body Odor on an Electronic Nose
“Detection and Classification of Human Body Odor Using an Electronic Nose,” Chatchawal Wongchoosuk, Mario Lutz, and Teerakiat Kerdcharoen, Sensors, vol. 9, 2009, pp. 7234-7249. The authors, at Mahidol University, Thailand, report:

Armpit odors of two volunteer persons were measured by an E-nose during five days using a combined hardware/software humidity correction. During the experiment period, the volunteers were requested to go about their ordinary life and activities: for example, they took a shower twice a day (before going to bed and after waking up following the morning sample collection). To avoid fluctuation in odor samples, they were not allowed to have sex and/or consume alcohol. To study the effects from deodorant, the volunteers were requested to use deodorant, after taking shower in the morning, but only on the right arm.... The E-nose is still able to recognize people, even after application of deodorant.


This article is republished with permission from the March-April 2016 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can download or purchase back issues of the magazine, or subscribe to receive future issues. Or get a subscription for someone as a gift!

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