Have you ever noticed that your sense of smell changes during certain times of the month? Or maybe you've not even realized it's your time of the month that's affecting it, but one week you love a fragrance, and the next you can't stand the smell of it? You're not alone. Because it turns out that your hormones can affect your sense of smell. Yes, really.
Research shows that different hormones impact both how we smell, and what we're smelling. According to a study carried out by the Institute of Psychology, the ups and downs of estrogen and progesterone throughout our menstrual cycle can make us more sensitized to scent.
Expectant mothers often find their sense of smell can change during pregnancy (as do menopausal women), so it makes sense that our sense of smell can be altered by hormone fluctuations throughout the month, too.
Week #1 (Menstruation)
Starting from the first day of your period (to day seven in your cycle), your estrogen levels are at their lowest, rising day by day. Your sense of smell starts off fairly low and rises through the week— meaning you're fairly indifferent to scent throughout this week.
Week 2 (Follicular Phase)
Estrogen peaks during the second week of your cycle, as does your sense of smell. This doesn't necessarily mean you'll despise all smells—in fact, it could be a week in which your heightened senses mean you love certain fragrances. But, because you'll be picking up on fragrance notes that you might usually miss, it could mean that you dislike fragrances that you usually tend to like.
Week 3 (Follicular Phase)
During the third week of your cycle, estrogen levels slowly start to drop off while progesterone and testosterone rise. Interestingly, some researchers believe that we tend to crave fatty foods around this time of the month as our sense of smell is heightened to specifically pick up calorie-dense food (in order to prepare our bodies for pregnancy). Humans are clever.
Week 4 (Luteal Phase)
During the last week of your cycle, your estrogen levels plummet, which is why you can often get easily annoyed around this time. This irritability is often spiked by heightened senses in general (loud noises, unpleasant tastes, etc.), therefore if you smell a strong scent during this time, you might be more likely to feel overpowered by it and dislike it.
If you find that your sense of smell is affected by your time of the month, not to worry. A Japanese study found that lavender might actually help to ease PMS symptoms. So if you're feeling irritable, try surrounding yourself with one of these.
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Mcneil J, Cameron JD, Finlayson G, Blundell JE, Doucet É. Greater overall olfactory performance, explicit wanting for high fat foods and lipid intake during the mid-luteal phase of the menstrual cycle. Physiol Behav. 2013;112-113:84-9. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2013.02.008
Matsumoto T, Asakura H, Hayashi T. Does lavender aromatherapy alleviate premenstrual emotional symptoms?: a randomized crossover trial. Biopsychosoc Med. 2013;7:12. doi:10.1186/1751-0759-7-12