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Armpit Sweat as a Possible Therapy for Social Anxiety

Female sweat armpit workout

Swedish researchers have begun testing armpit sweat as a possible therapy for social anxiety. The scientists believe that the smell of human sweat activates brain pathways associated with emotions, potentially inducing a calming effect. 

The team presented their early findings earlier this week at the 31st European Congress of Psychiatry in Paris. 

They collected sweat samples from volunteers while they watched either a happy or a scary movie. Later, the researchers asked women with social anxiety to sniff some of the samples, either with sweat or with clean air. Concurrently, they were receiving mindfulness therapy. Those exposed to the sweat samples appeared to do better with the therapy than the control group. The indication is that the smell of sweat triggers a mental reaction. 

Lead researcher Elisa Vigna from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm said that “sweat produced while someone was happy had the same effect as someone who had been scared by a movie clip. So there may be something about human chemo-signals in sweat generally which affects the response to treatment.”

This innovative study is part of a growing trend of research into novel therapies for anxiety. 

The Science Behind Sweat and Smell

Sweat glands all over the skin’s surface secrete sweat, a bodily fluid, to regulate body temperature. Most of the skin’s sweat is odourless, but sweat glands in the armpit and groin produce certain compounds that cause body odour. Bacteria on the skin’s surface and nearby hair follicles break down these compounds, producing others which are responsible for the smell. Similar to this study, researchers at Stony Brook University in New York found a correlation between chemosensory cues and emotional stress. It revealed that sweat contains a chemical signal that can influence the mood of others who smell it.

Other forms of Anxiety Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a well-established treatment for anxiety disorders, but it may not be suitable for everyone. In recent years, other approaches to anxiety therapy have emerged, such as exposure therapy and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). Exposure therapy involves gradually exposing the individual to the object of their fear, such as spiders or flying, while teaching them how to manage their anxiety. ACT focuses on developing mindfulness skills and self-awareness to better manage anxiety symptoms.

Psychedelic-assisted therapy is another emerging area of anxiety therapy. This involves using substances like psilocybin and MDMA to help patients confront and process past trauma and anxiety. While this is still a relatively new field of study, early research has shown promising results.

Finally, digital therapies are increasingly being used to treat anxiety, such as online CBT and mindfulness apps. These options offer convenient, low-cost alternatives to traditional therapy, especially for those who may not have access to in-person therapy.

Conclusion

While it is still too early to say whether sweat therapy will become a viable option for anxiety treatment, it is exciting to see innovative approaches being explored in this field. As researchers continue to develop new therapies, the hope is that more people with anxiety disorders can find effective treatments that work for them.

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