31 Oct Here’s how your hormones impact your sense of smell
- Key findings: An array of studies reveals that your sense of smell varies according to where you are in your menstrual cycle. For example, you’re more sensitive to scents in the first half of your cycle and you’re able to more easily identify aromas in the second half.
UPDATED OCTOBER 31, 2021 (originally published May 20, 2016)—Ever notice that you thoroughly enjoy a rich, complex scent on some days, but then on other days, even a faint whiff of an aroma is too much? Or maybe you realize that you’re drawn to certain smells on some days, but then different odors attract you at other times?
You may be able to chalk up at least some of this variation in scent experience to the ups and downs of hormones in your menstrual cycle. Research shows that throughout your cycle, fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone impact how well you smell aromas in addition to what you enjoy sniffing out.
Curious how your hormones are affecting your sense of smell? Read on to discover what happens in your….
Week 1: Slow start
Day 1 (first day of your period) to Day 7
Estrogen starts off at its lowest point and rises throughout
At the start of your period week, aka your Week 1, your sense of smell starts off at the low end of its scale due to bottomed-out estrogen. But, as the level of this hormone rises day by day, you’re detecting more subtleties in aromas and enjoying scents of all sorts.
In fact, a study in the journal Psychophysiology shows you have greater sexual arousal when you smell a pleasant fragrance someone is wearing throughout this cycle week.1
Week 2: Your sense of smell peaks
Day 8 to ovulation (which is Day 14 in a 28-day cycle)
Estrogen rises till it peaks; testosterone rises and peaks at the end
The closer you get to ovulation (at the end of your Week 2), the more high estrogen improves your smelling ability, helping you to detect more subtleties in aromas, several studies show.2 This makes it a perfect phase of your cycle to sniff fragrant flowers, try a new essential oil or cook a meal with a complex aroma.
However, if you’re getting intimate with your partner during ovulation, this sharper sense of smell can turn out to be a hindrance. Turns out, while you get more turned on by fragrances your honey wears during most of your Week 2, smelling a fragrance during ovulation can actually decrease sexual arousal. Why? Researchers theorize that when estrogen peaks during ovulation, your sense of smell becomes so sensitive that fragrances may be too overpowering and, therefore, unpleasant.3
One more scent change that occurs during your Week 2: You prefer the aroma of romantic partners with symmetrical features. Yep, you read that right–partners with symmetrical features smell different! At least during the days around ovulation, one University of New Mexico study reports.4 The researchers speculate that because symmetry is a sign of virility and health, this scent cue may help point women toward the best partner with whom to conceive a child during this fertile cycle phase.
Week 3: You sniff out fatty foods faster
Begins day after ovulation and lasts 8 days (Day 15 to Day 22 in a 28-day cycle)
Estrogen and testosterone drop for the first half; estrogen rises during the second half; progesterone rises throughout
Next time you walk into a supermarket or restaurant during your Week 3 (the eight days following ovulation), pay attention to the aromas in the air. Chances are, you’ll be able to figure out exactly what the chefs are whipping up in the kitchen, especially when they’re fatty foods, such as doughnuts and French fries. That’s the word from University of Ottawa scientists who discovered that you get better at determining the source of aromas of foods high in fat during this phase of your cycle–and this is likely one culprit behind increased cravings for fatty foods on these days.5
So, why do you experience this peculiar scent-specific change? Researchers believe it’s due to rising progesterone. This could be one of the various ways this hormone pushes you to consume more calorie-dense food in case you got pregnant during ovulation and are now eating for two.
Week 4: You become more scent-sensitive
Final 6 days of your cycle
Estrogen and progesterone plunge
During your premenstrual Week 4, plunging estrogen can make you more easily annoyed or overpowered by scents of any kind–even those you normally enjoy during other cycle weeks. That’s because as estrogen drops, it makes you more sensitive to sensory input of all kinds, such as loud noises, scratchy textures and unpleasant tastes.
However, there is one scent that can actually ease premenstrual symptoms when you sniff it during this cycle week: lavender. Inhaling a natural lavender scent (such as lavender potpourri or essential oil) for 10 minutes can significantly reduce premenstrual anger, irritability and the blues, according to research in the journal BioPsychoSocial Medicine.6 As the study authors explain it, certain compounds in lavender’s aroma are absorbed through membranes in your nasal passages, then travel to the brain where they have a relaxing, mood-lifting effect.
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Did you know that your sense of smell changes depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle? Learn more at MyHormonology.com/got-a-nose-heres-how-your-hormones-impact-your-sense-of-smell-from-week-to-week-in-your-cycle
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(1) Cynthia A. Graham, Erick Janssen, Stephanie A. Sanders, “Effects of fragrance on female sexual arousal and mood across the menstrual cycle”, Psychophysiology, 37 (2000): 76-84
(2) Maja S. Bogdan, et al., “Olfactory Perception and Different Decongestive Response of the Nasal Mucosa During Menstrual Cycle,” American Journal of Rhinology & Allergy, January 26, 2021
Evelia Navarrete-Palacios, et al., “Lower olfactory threshold during the ovulatory phase of the menstrual cycle,” Biological Psychology, 63 (2003): 269-279
Bettina M. Pause, et al., “Olfactory information processing during the course of the menstrual cycle”, Biological Psychology, 44 (1996): 31-54
Kyoko Watanabe, Kana Umezu, Takashi Kurahashi, “Human olfactory contrast changes during the menstrual cycle”, The Japanese Journal of Physiology, 52 (2002): 353-359
(3) Cynthia A. Graham, Erick Janssen, Stephanie A. Sanders, “Effects of fragrance on female sexual arousal and mood across the menstrual cycle,” Psychophysiology, 37 (2000): 76-84
(4) Steven W. Gangestad, Randy Thornhill, “Menstrual cycle variation in women’s preferences for the scent of symmetrical men”, Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 265 (1998): 927-933
(5) Jessica McNeil, et al., “Greater overall olfactory performance, explicit wanting for high fat foods and lipid intake during the mid-luteal phase of the menstrual cycle,” Physiology & Behavior, 112-113 (2013): 84-89
(6) Tamaki Matsumoto, Hiroyuki Asakura, Tatsuya Hayashi, “Does lavender aromatherapy alleviate premenstrual emotional symptoms?: a randomized crossover trial”, BioPsychoSocial Medicine, 7 (2013): 12