YouDocs, 7-17-12: Smells like romance in the air

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Q: I've been reading about pheromone singles parties in California in which people sniff stinky clothing to select who they'll get matched with. Have I been going about my dating routine all wrong? -- Frederica G., Chicago

A: Humans have all kinds of animal instincts (and stinks) we prefer to ignore or suppress, and smell is certainly one of them. In North America alone we spend about $2.5 billion on deodorants and antiperspirants every year.

But even in our sweat-suppressed, nose-weakened state, humans produce and respond to pheromones -- aromatic hormones secreted by the body that stimulate certain behaviors. (We both -- as advocates of body chemistry's communication powers -- think it's better to avoid the sweat-suppressing formulas used in deodorants.) Men's sweat smell raises women's cortisol levels, interesting because that's a "fight or flight" hormone. Women who live together seemingly synchronize their menstrual periods through smell cues. And human sexual behavior and fertility seem influenced by particular scents.

But do aromas make for the sweet smell of romantic success? Sticking your nose in a plastic bag containing a T-shirt that a potential date slept in for three nights (that's the gimmick at these get-togethers) may let you know if he or she is a smoker (a total turn off) or wears cologne you hate. But that's a long way from finding a soul mate.

An enduring relationship is one of the building blocks of lifelong better health: Paired-up people live longer and have more frequent sex. They survive serious illnesses better, and they're less stressed, which has cardiovascular and psychological benefits.

So what's the key? Find activities you enjoy (from cycling to reading), and join groups of like-minded people. Physical activity boosts body image and dispels anxiety.

Q: My 10-year-old son has dyslexia and ADHD and takes several medications to help him concentrate and read better. I think he's getting bullied at school. He won't admit it, but he comes home sad a lot. His teachers seem clueless. What can I do? -- Lucinda M., Reston, Va.

A: Great question, and one that parents everywhere, whether their child is bullied or not, should be talking about at PTA meetings and at home. In your situation, the first step is to make your child feel safe enough to talk about what's going on. That comes from his knowing it's not his fault and knowing that you -- and his teachers -- will stick up for him. So talk to your child about what's going on and find ways for him to tell you and his teachers when it happens.

Next, try to get the school involved in an anti-bullying campaign. There's a successful initiative in Alberta, Canada -- the Teasing and Bullying Unacceptable Behaviour (TAB) program that gets results with 4th-6th graders who don't understand about kids with differences. In this case, the difference is stuttering (but any attribute will work). Kids who understood the problem or knew someone, such as a family member, who stuttered were less likely to bully. The kids who didn't know anything about stuttering or anyone who stuttered were the most likely to make fun of "different" kids.

The really great news? After going through TAB, potential bullies showed the biggest attitude change. Once they learned that stuttering was involuntary and how bullying really hurt their schoolmate or friend the bullying became socially unacceptable.

A lot of bullies are what researchers call "dually involved"; they've been bullied too. For those children, it usually starts at home. That's why establishing a school-based program is good for everyone.

(Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Medical Officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. Submit your health questions at www.doctoroz.com.)

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