The Life Doctor

By Bailey, Eleanor | The Independent (London, England), November 29, 1998 | Go to article overview
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The Life Doctor


Bailey, Eleanor, The Independent (London, England)


WHEN YOU were a student and you got colds all the time, you probably put it down to the beer and too many Pot Noodles. That might well have been the case but there may have been something else: smell. The unpleasant stench in your disgusting student hovel - overflowing bins, the mould in the fridge and fetid sheets sticky with adolescent sweat - may have contributed.

I always knew it. But for the first time it has been scientifically measured. A new study has shown that unpleasant smells attack the immune system and that good smells lift it.

The research was part of the recent Arise pleasure and immunity conference. Arise - the Associates for Research into the Science of Enjoyment - is kind of the Martyn "Good News" Lewis of the science world. They are a group of scientists who look at how good things can keep us healthy, to balance the traditional research route of problem solving. The smell test was done by Dr Angela Clow, senior lecturer in psychophysiology at the University of Westminster. In the test three groups of people were exposed to the smell of rotten meat, melted chocolate and water - representing (unsurprisingly) unpleasant, pleasant and neutral smells. They were blindfolded, exposed to the smells and asked how they felt after each exposure, and their saliva was measured for the concentration and secretion rate of secretory Immunoglobulin-A (sIgA). The most interesting result was the difference between men and women's responses. It may explain why men are such insensitive malodorous beasts and women are such whining wimps. Women's reporting of how awful the meat was and how calming the chocolate was far more extreme. The men apparently didn't notice the whiffs so much either way (which accounts for the unequal division of laundry labour). However the male immune response was actually stronger than the women's - positive for the chocolate, negative for the meat.

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