Here’s how your hormones impact your sense of smell

Here’s how your hormones impact your sense of smell


Heard the recent nose news from University College London researchers who discovered that four genes determine the width and pointedness of our noses, which may play a key role in tracing human evolution? Well, I’m just as intrigued by what noses can do as how they look. That’s because I’m a big sniffer from way back and love inhaling scents. Luckily, during this time of year in Florida, the spring rains have helped lots of aromatic flowers and vines to bloom around my yard, including this pink plumeria.

On top of enjoying aromas, in general, I’m also fascinated by the way our sense of smell changes in response to our hormones. Research shows that throughout our cycle, the ups and downs of estrogen and progesterone impact how well we smell in addition to what we’re 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 rock-bottom and rises throughout this week

Your sense of smell starts off at the low end of its scale due to bottomed-out estrogen. But, as this hormone rises day by day, you’re detecting more subtleties in aromas and enjoying scents of all sorts. In fact, this study shows you have greater sexual arousal when you smell a pleasant fragrance someone is wearing throughout this cycle week.

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 of this week

As you approach ovulation (in the middle of your cycle), your high estrogen enables you to detect more subtle aromas around you, several studies show (such as this one, this one and this one). This makes it a perfect phase of your cycle to sniff fragrant flowers, try a new essential oil or perfume 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 cologne during ovulation can actually decrease sexual arousal. Why? Researchers theorize that when estrogen peaks during ovulation, your sense of smell becomes so keen that fragrances may be too overpowering and, therefore, unpleasant.

One more scent change that occurs during your Week 2: You prefer the aroma of men with symmetrical features. Yep, you read that right–men with symmetrical features smell different! At least during the days around ovulation, one study shows. 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
Estrogen and testosterone drop for the first half of this week; estrogen rises during the second half; progesterone rises throughout

Ever walk into a supermarket or restaurant during your Week 3 (the week after ovulation) and you immediately started craving fatty foods, like doughnuts, French fries, croissants and ice cream? You were probably smelling the scent of fatty foods in the air. That’s the word from a study that found we get better at detecting the aromas of foods high in fat during this phase of our cycle–and this is likely one culprit behind our many cravings for fatty foods on these days. So, why do we 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 us to consume more calorie-dense food in case we 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 this premenstrual week, 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 in general–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, research shows. As the researchers 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.

Follow me