Pheromones are chemicals that send signals to other members of the same species. These signs could serve many purposes, such as demarcation of territory, as in the case of dogs and cats through the urine, or to mark a food trail. Have you ever wondered how all the ants seem to converge on the same food source? Or to send warning signals to other members of the species, in the face of imminent danger.
The most well-known purpose that has always attracted the greatest attention is the use of pheromones as a means of sexual attraction.
Pheromones as a sexual attractant were identified since 1956, when scientists extracted a compound from certain glands in the abdomen of the silkworm moth. They found that this pheromones, which they called Bombykol, had an astonishing effect on the moths of the male silkworm, which when exposed to its effects, immediately entered a frenzied “dance.” Scientists realized that they had found a vital element in the process of sexual attraction for these moths.
Over time, this information has been used to control and disrupt the breeding cycles of many insects and pests. Insects, in general, have very simple and predictable behavior patterns, making them the easiest subjects for experiments.
Do pheromones work in the world of mammals as well? Studies done on rats and hamsters seem to suggest that they certainly do. These studies also suggest that pheromones do not act directly on the sense of normal smell, which has to do with odors, but appear to act through a very specific channel.
Researchers believe that the vomeronasal organ is critical to recognizing these specialized signals. The vomeronasal organ or cigar-shaped VNO is located in the vommer bone between the nose and mouth in the nostrils that seems to communicate directly with the parts of the brain that control reproduction and its behavior.
But how do these same mechanisms of attraction and behavior modification apply to the most complex of mammals, man himself? This has long been the subject of debate.
Key sense: sense of smell
The sense of smell is perhaps one of the least used in humans, perhaps because of the lesser need to use it for survival than other primitive mammals. On the other hand a multi-million dollar industry around the world, perfume, is proof of the importance of odors.
Do human pheromones have effects on other species? Several studies have shown promising results. Dr. Winifred Cutler, a biologist and endocrinologist, found that women with regular intercourse had more regular menstrual cycles.
Another remarkable study was done by Martha McLintock in 1970, when she observed that the menstrual cycles of groups of women living together tended to synchronize. In addition, she revealed the surprising fact of exposure to other women’s pheromones, causing changes in the cycle. The implications of this discovery for the treatment of infertility or even contraception are obviously very promising and it has been suggested that pheromones could also be used to change mood and relieve depression and stress.
It has been found that pheromones are also prone to be the scientific basis of the romantic concept of “chemistry” among individuals, that feeling of instant attraction and connection with certain people.
There is also evidence that we are looking for partners whose immune systems complement ours. In other words, we are instinctively attracted to people whose immune systems are most different from ours. This ensures the production of stronger and healthier kids. Our instinctive actions are based on the chemical signals we collect.
There are hundreds, if not thousands of companies out there, trying to sell all kinds of products supposedly with pheromones, which in many cases promise almost immediate and striking results in attracting members of the opposite sex.
However, there is no evidence of its effectiveness. But it is indisputable that pheromones play an important role in human physiology.