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posted: 6/2/2014 5:15 AM

Your health: Why people love that new baby smell

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  • The smell of a new baby is wonderful to some people, and research says that it has the greatest effect on new mothers.

      The smell of a new baby is wonderful to some people, and research says that it has the greatest effect on new mothers.

 

New baby smell

Americans may spend billions on products to eliminate body odor, but there are certain smells -- such as that of a newborn baby -- that make people smile, according to a study cited in the May edition of Real Simple. The research found that the scent of a baby gave women a mood boost similar to that of eating chocolate.

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In the study, published in Frontiers in Psychology, researchers gathered 30 women; half had recently given birth and half were not mothers. Each was given a cotton undershirt that a newborn baby had worn for two nights and that had been frozen to preserve the baby's scent. When the women were given the shirts to smell, the reward center in their brains lit up.

Researchers weren't sure what the scent was. "We think it consists of roughly 250 chemicals," said Johan Lundstrom, an associate professor at the Monell Chemical Senses center in Philadelphia. "We think it gives moms the urge to take care of their infants. Researchers also suggested that the babies' body odor might also convey cues that can motivate a woman to care for a child even if the baby isn't her own. No word on how the smell affects men.

PSA test debate

What do pathologist Richard J. Ablin and science writer Ronald Piana think about routine PSA screening for prostate cancer? The title of their new book offers a pretty good clue: "The Great Prostate Hoax: How Big Medicine Hijacked the PSA Test and Caused a Public Health Disaster."

The authors say that screenings for prostate-specific antigen, or PSA, result in "a million needle biopsies per year, leading to more than 100,000 radical prostatectomies, most of which are unnecessary" and whose side effects can include incontinence and impotence.

It's a familiar criticism, but Ablin is an unusual critic: He describes himself, and is often cited, as having discovered the antigen in 1970. (As is often the case in modern science, many independent researchers can claim some role in the discovery.)

The debate over the PSA test is ongoing, and experts are careful about what they say. The National Cancer Institute, for example, says, "Although some organizations continue to recommend PSA screening, there is widespread agreement that any man who is considering getting tested should first be informed in detail about the potential harms and benefits."

There's no doubt that any man could get a powerful and passionate argument against the test from this book.

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