Health tips — May 2014

Why body odor can be a sign of illness, and how to manage stress when making a big presentation.

Dr. Nose

Does someone smell stinky? He or she may need a doctor, not a bath. In a study to determine if we can sniff out sickness, published in Psychological Science, volunteers were injected with a toxin and asked to wear tight T-shirts to absorb their sweat. After injection, these participants produced increased levels of cytokines, a group of immune-system molecules. Later, another group compared the smell of the toxin carriers' T-shirts to those worn by volunteers injected with a saline solution. The toxin group's T-shirts were reported as having a more unpleasant and "unhealthier" smell than the other group's T-shirts.

The finding that we emit an aversive signal after the immune system is activated is important, researchers note. Maybe BO will one day save a life.

Misery hates company

Nervous about making that big presentation? Getting a buddy may help. In a study published by Social Psychology and Personality Science, students were paired up and asked to give a speech. They were encouraged to discuss their feelings about the task beforehand and their levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, were measured before, during and after the speeches. The result? Lower cortisol levels and less feelings of stress than before.