The real story behind whether or not human pheromones exist

Today’s Video of the Day comes courtesy of the American Chemical Society Speaking of Chemistry series and features an in-depth look at the science behind pheromones.  

Pheromones are an important way in which animals communicate chemically, using scent to convey anything from gender to fertility. While people often reference pheromones conversationally when discussing love, lust, and attraction, scientists have yet to discover clear evidence of human pheromones.

In 1959, German scientist Adolf Butenandt discovered the first pheromone: bombykol. Bombykol is a substance released by female silkworm moths that attracts males. Since then, scientists have discovered pheromones in dogs, fish, mice, snakes, deer, lobsters and elephants.

Given how many animals produce pheromones, one would assume humans do too. But scientists still have not been able to isolate any chemicals that are human pheromones. That said, humans still can subconsciously send chemical cues. For example, when men smell a woman's tears it can actually reduce their testosterone levels. Meanwhile, extracts of men's sweat can actually prompt ovulation hormones in women. But despite these outcomes, scientists still have not been able to isolate the precise molecules causing these effects.

Until these chemicals can be isolated and identified, the question of whether or not humans emit pheromones remains up in the air.

That said, many retailers still peddle fragrances and oils claiming to be full of pheromones to make a person irresistible to the object of their affection. Many claim to contain androstenol or androstenone, chemicals that have been found to exist in human arm pits. But researchers have still found no evidence that either can be called an actual human pheromone. A substance has to actually convey information to other members of the species in order to get that official title.

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By Rory Arnold, Earth.com Staff Writer

Video thanks to the American Chemical Society