Science Focus (issue 24)

23 inconclusive because other stimuli, such as visual, tactile and auditory cues may also contribute to the sow’s response. Given the much higher complexity of mammalian nervous system, our social behavior cannot be explained in the same way as insects’ [1]. Do Humans Possess Pheromones? Androgen derivatives, namely androstenone, androstenol and androstadienone, are externally secreted hormones which were purported to be the putative human pheromones by some experts. Particularly, they found that androstenone and androstadienone in sweat may contain a musk-like scent to the ones who can smell them, reminding us of the folklore that musk is a social attractant to humans [1, 5]. Androgen derivatives were hypothesized to be human pheromones also because of their effects on the reproductive behaviors in other mammals, such as lordosis in sows. Moreover, the facts that men have high levels of these steroids than women, and that women are more sensitive to these agents, imply the sexual dimorphism in their production and perception [1], and lend support to these agents as potential sexual attractants. Conversely, some scientists believe none of these steroids are human pheromones, and think that even if they are found in body fluids, it does not necessarily mean that they serve as means of communication, and have the ability to alter reproductive responses [1]. Androstenone and androstenol are quite ubiquitous: They can be found in many animals and plants [1], including the roots of parsnip and celery [6]. In addition, while some people find the odor of these potential pheromones pleasant, others find it repulsive or cannot smell them at all. Therefore, it may not be logical to define all odorants as pheromones. In fact, researchers found evidence showing that humans have shifted the heavy reliance on olfactory senses to sight and vision during evolution that we depend less on smell for survival and reproduction [5]. As you can tell by now, the definition of human pheromones is still a subject of active debate. Do Pheromone Perfumes Actually Work? So the ultimate question is whether or not such perfumes work? The answer is: They neither have a clear pharmacological basis, nor work magically like “Cupid’s arrow”. To recap, many experts question the existence of mammalian pheromones, although the industry has already claimed and made the assumption that related products can reproduce the sexual response that occurs in other mammals. An interesting fact is that many products do not even contain the putative human pheromones, and use animal “pheromones” from dogs and pigs or plant extracts as the active ingredient. These ingredients are unlikely to elicit similar effects on humans, as pheromones should be species-specific by definition [7]. Unfortunately, pheromonal products are not regulated by the FDA because they are not therapeutic drugs [8], so the industry can advertise the products with their own claims. Another point to ponder is whether pheromone perfumes can exert a placebo effect. Just like other perfumes in general, they will make you smell better, which may be sufficient to boost your confidence. As a result, one may act in a manner that the opposite sex finds more attractive. So, the beneficial effects can stem from a change in self-perception, and not from the chemicals of the spray. After all, confidence is only a small part in the pursuit of true love. Empathy, hard work, dedication and patience are qualities that we cannot obtain from such products if you really want to find the love of your life!