So says Claire Wyart, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Berkeley Olfactory Research Project, and colleagues.
The compound, called androstadienone (AND), "does cause hormonal, as well as physiological and psychological, changes in women," Wyart says in a university news release.
The findings may lead to new treatments for people with hormone problems, Wyart's team writes in The Journal of Neuroscience.
Wyart and colleagues studied 21 healthy, heterosexual women (average age: 22).
At the researchers' lab, the women rated their mood and watched a soothing nature video to help them relax before the experiment began.
Next, they sniffed a jar that contained pure AND (which smells "vaguely musky," according to the UC Berkeley news release) or baker's yeast, which doesn't contain AND.
Meanwhile, the researchers monitored the women's blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, skin temperature, and fidgeting.
After sniffing the jar, the women watched five-minute video clips of funny, sad, or erotic content, followed by 10 minutes of videos with emotionally neutral content.
AND's effects are "more pronounced in these emotional contexts," the researchers explain.
Lastly, the women rated their mood, the pleasantness and intensity of the odor in the vial, and their level of sexual arousal. They also provided saliva samples every 15 minutes for the next hour.
Male Sweat Compound
When the women smelled AND, their mood, sexual arousal, and cortisol levels were higher than when they smelled the baker's yeast.
The women rated the smell of AND and baker's yeast comparably. On a scale of 1 to 9, they rated both scents' pleasantness as 2 and intensity as 3.
This is the first study to show women's hormonal response to AND's mere smell, the researchers note.
The results do not mean AND is the only compound in male sweat that affects women.
"Sweat is a complex mixture," Wyart's team writes. "It is possible that many more of the hundreds of molecules in sweat can induce a variety of endocrine [hormone] changes."
SOURCES: Wyart, C. The Journal of Neuroscience, Feb. 7, 2007; vol 27: pp 1261-1265. News release, University of California Berkeley.
By Miranda Hitti
Reviewed by Louise Chang, M.D