07 Apr 2 ways your sense of smell changes in your cycle
- Key findings: Your sense of smell sharpens as you approach ovulation due to rising estrogen. And your ability to identify scents sharpens in the second half (luteal phase) of your cycle.
APRIL 7, 2021—Take a moment to think about a blooming rose, fresh-baked cinnamon bun and hot cup of coffee. In addition to picturing what they look like, you may have also thought about the scents that each are famous for. And for good reason: Scent plays a key role in our lives, for example, we use it to improve our mood, select food, pick our partner and make ourselves more attractive.
So, it can be a help if you know ahead of time when your sense of smell changes. And if you have a healthy menstrual cycle, you can. Researchers have discovered two interesting ways hormones in your cycle impact your smelling ability:
Numerous studies show that in the first half of your cycle (your Week 1 and Week 2), as you get closer to ovulation, your sense of smell gets more powerful.1 Researchers believe the reason is spiking estrogen, which is a hormone that enhances many physical functions as it climbs.
What this means for you? You’re able to detect more complexities in aromas you might miss on other cycle days, for example, you may notice more spices in food, a wider array of fragrance notes in flowers or a nuttier bouquet in your morning cup of coffee.
It also means that odors are more potent. This makes subtle scents easier to pick up on. But, it can also make everyday aromas overwhelming, for example, the dirty laundry could smell downright disgusting or a freshly-mowed lawn could bowl you over with its pungency.
Interestingly, one study found that at ovulation, women are more attracted to partners who don’t spritz on a cologne or perfume than those who do.2 It may be that your extra estrogen-fueled nasal sensitivity makes even aromas you normally enjoy too much to whiff. Or it could possibly be that you’re better able to sniff out pheromones or natural body fragrances in your partner that heighten your desire, but an intense cloud of their cologne or perfume covers them up.
Your ability to identify scents sharpens
Here’s another intriguing effect your hormones have on your sense of smell: During most of the second half of your cycle (Week 3 and Week 4), you’re better at identifying what aromas you’re smelling.3
In fact, you’re particularly adept at distinguishing the scent of fatty foods, such as doughnuts and cheese.4
Researchers believe this is due to elevated progesterone on these cycle days. 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.
You might also find that you’re better at identifying odors that alert you to danger, such as smoke or spoiled food. That’s also a result of higher levels of progesterone since this hormone makes you more cautious and wary, again, in case you got pregnant during ovulation and now need to be protective for two.
Knowing how the ups and downs of the hormones in your menstrual cycle impact your ability to smell can help you enjoy aromas of all sorts even more. You can know when to dial down intensity, increase complexity, experiment with new scents and treat yourself to old favorites.
You can also use this hormone-fueled cycle-power to sniff out hazards, for example, figuring out if the leftover potato salad has been in the refrigerator too long and it’s time to toss.
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(1) 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; Kyoko Watanabe, Kana Umezu, Takashi Kurahashi, “Human olfactory contrast changes during the menstrual cycle”, The Japanese Journal of Physiology, 52 (2002): 353-359
(2) 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
(3) 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
(4) 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
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