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Sniffing Out Human Pheromones
Scientists Find Proof of 'Chemistry' Between People by Rick Weiss, Washington Post Staff Writer Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company March 12, 1998



Scientists have found long-sought proof that people release potent chemical signals that can have profound effects on other people.

The research settles a 40-year debate about whether humans produce and can respond to "pheromones," molecules that are usually airborne and odorless and which, in other species, influence such physiological processes and behaviors as mate choice, the recognition of one's own family members, and the ability to "smell" the difference between friend and foe.

Specifically, the new research shows that women's underarm odors can alter the timing of other women's reproductive cycles. It explains why women who live together often develop synchronous menstrual periods, and could spur development of "natural" fertility drugs or contraceptives.

The finding may also lead to the discovery of compounds in sweat that could be incorporated into fragrances to alter body chemistry or mood.

"This is definitely going to make people sit up and take notice," said Charles J. Wysocki of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. Previous studies by scientists at Monell and elsewhere showed similar results but later were recognized as flawed. The new work, Wysocki said, seems to answer the question for good.

"The evidence has now become quite strong that humans produce and detect pheromones," agreed Edward W. Johnson of Idaho State University in Pocatello.

The discovery was especially gratifying to Martha K. McClintock, the University of Chicago researcher who, with colleague Kathleen Stern, describes the work in today's issue of the journal Nature. As an undergraduate almost 30 years ago, McClintock observed that many women in her dormitory menstruated in synchrony.

For decades McClintock immersed herself in the task of identifying the timing mechanism. She and others suspected pheromones, but proof was hard to come by.

Pheromones have been documented in many species, ranging from insects to elephants, as sex attractants, kinship identifiers or alarm signals. In many species they are detected by a specialized organ inside the nose or mouth called the vomeronasal organ, or VNO.

There was ample evidence that human pheromones exist; babies show a clear preference for pieces of clothing that have been worn by their own mothers, for example, and research suggests that men and women choose their mates in part by sniffing out partners with compatible immune systems. Several years ago, researchers in Utah even said they had identified the first human pheromones -- and turned their discovery into a line of perfumes that today boasts revenue of $40 million a year.

But the Utah work has been criticized by many experts. And the Monell work, on menstrual cycles, did not take into consideration the fact that many out-of-phase cycles will naturally converge over time.

Moreover, scientists have remained uncertain whether the human VNO, a pair of tiny pits in the nose, is a functional organ or an evolutionary vestige.

To find out if human pheromones exist and can affect menstrual timing, McClintock and Stern asked nine women to wear gauze pads under their armpits all day. (Sweat is a common source of pheromones in mammals.) The pads, changed daily, were cut into pieces and frozen, and a daily tally was kept of each woman's menstrual phase.

Then, every day for four months, the researchers rubbed thawed gauze pads above the upper lips of 20 volunteer women who had agreed to have any of 30 different "natural essences" rubbed under their noses. "Sweat" was among the 30. "We buried it in the list," McClintock said.

For two months, 10 women sniffed sweat from women in the early phase of their menstrual cycle, while the other 10 sniffed sweat from women in a later phase of their cycle. Then the groups switched and spent two months getting the opposite scent.

The women smelled nothing, but the results were striking: Those exposed to "early phase" sweat saw their own cycles shortened by an average of 1.7 days per month, and as much as 14 days a month. Those who sniffed "later phase" sweat saw their cycles lengthened by an average of 1.4 days a month, and up to 12 days a month.

Computer models indicated there must be two substances in the sweat -- one that lengthens cycles and one that shortens them -- and that together they can quickly lead to groups of women having synchronous periods.

"This carefully controlled study clearly shows, for the first time, that the potential for chemical communication involving sexual function has been preserved in humans during evolution," wrote Aron Weller, of Israel's Bar-Ilan University, in a commentary in Nature.

McClintock emphasized the word "potential," since the experiment does not prove these signals work under normal conditions, such as across a room.

"We put it on the upper lip," McClintock said, "so really we know absolutely nothing about where it is acting, whether it's through the skin, the mucus membranes in the nose or the VNO." Nonetheless, practical uses could follow.

"The whole point would be to see what the compounds are and how do they act and what is their natural route and see whether we could develop a highly efficient ovarian modulator," McClintock said. A drug that constantly delays ovulation could serve as a contraceptive, while one that prompts ovulation might cure some kinds of infertility.

Linda Buck of Harvard University, who studies the molecular genetics of smell, said she has been unable to find functioning VNO genes in people. But some animals detect pheromones with their normal nasal cells, she said, and humans may too.

If pheromones have a big effect on human physiology, people may want to rethink their heavy use of soaps and perfumes: It may be, Buck speculated, that the constant washing away or covering up of these sweaty social signals account for some of the loneliness or depression in modern society.






“这足以引起人类的注意了”-费城的Monell Chemical Senses Center 的Charles J. Wysocki如是说。就Monell及其它地方的科学家之前的研究显示了类似的结果但后来证明有点错误。

“更强而有力的证据人类会分泌及感应到费洛蒙”,Pocatello之Idaho 州立大学的Edward W. Johnson同意。


有大量的证据证明人类的费洛蒙是存在的,例如小婴儿对其母亲用来包覆他们的衣物有很明显的偏好,而且调查也建议男女在宴会中以适当的免疫系统来择偶。 Utah的调查员也在几年前也证明了第一个人类的费洛蒙-也将其发现发展出一系列的香水创造了年4千万美金的盈收。


为了证实费洛蒙的存在及足以影响月经周期,McClintock及Stern要求九位妇女在她们的腋下整天穿戴纱布垫。 (汗水是哺乳动物的费洛蒙一般来源)。这个纱布垫每天更换切成小片冰冻起来,及记录每个妇女的月经周期。

研究嗅觉分子基因、哈佛大学的Linda Buck说,她无法在人身上找到官能VNO基因,但一些动物会以正常的鼻子细胞侦测到费洛蒙,人类也可能会。



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