Everyone’s body produces an odour. Body odour is individual and the scent varies from person to person. When body temperature rises we perspire in order to regulate body temperature and during this process sweat also helps to excrete waste and flush out toxins. So sweating helps our body to maintain a stable temperature by helping it to cool down and helps to keep our bodies healthy. The process of sweating produces an odour but it isn’t the sweat itself responsible for this smell.
What is body odour?
The skin is the largest organ of the body and serves several important functions; one of which is regulating body temperature. Our bodies contain two types of sweat gland; eccrine glands and apocrine glands. We also have skin glands or sebaceous glands. Eccrine glands can be found largely everywhere on the body and serve to control body temperature. When the temperature of the body rises above 98.6 degrees F, due to physical activity, for example, the part of the brain called the hypothalamus, instructs the exocrine glands to begin work.1 The eccrine glands quickly secrete fluid, consisting mostly of water and salt, onto the skin’s outer layer. This fluid then evaporates causing body temperature to lower, cooling us down. Eccrine glands don’t usually produce an odour in healthy people.
Apocrine glands can be found on hands, cheeks, scalp, breast areolas, and in particular in hair follicles, like the armpits and groin. These glands only begin to work once we reach puberty. The Apocrine glands secrete a milky, odourless fluid, usually activated by emotional stress or heightened emotions; when we are nervous or excited for instance. Once this fluid is produced the bacteria on the skin works hard to break down the acids present which produces an odour, often an unpleasant one, particularly in places like the armpits and groin, where the presence of apocrine glands is more abundant. The apocrine glands are responsible for making sweat which contains lots of protein which can easily be broken down by bacteria; producing body odour as a result of this process. The high salt content of the sweat produced by the eccrine glands makes it harder for bacteria to break it down; meaning body odour is largely a product of the apocrine glands and not the eccrine.2
So, when we sweat bacteria on the skin works to break down acids which are present in sweat; and this bacteria produces the smell we know as body odour. So it’s not the sweat per say that produces the smell but the process of the bacteria breaking down acids in the sweat that’s responsible.
Who is affected by body odour?
Well, we all are. In as much as we all sweat and produce body odour as a result of this process. According to a study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology in 2013, “Two percent of people carry an unusual form of a specific gene (ABCC11) that means their armpits never smell.”3 As for the rest of us; body odour is a normal and natural physiological byproduct. We sweat and produce body odour when we are excited, scared, anxious, stressed, nervous, elated, during physical exercise, and when in hot weather, for instance. The amount a person sweats and the strength of the body odour will vary from person to person but is affected by various factors. Diet, health, gender and medication can all affect the amount and potency of body odour:4
- People who are heavily overweight are likely to produce more body odour because they are more likely to sweat more due to the physical exertion of carrying a lot of weight and how this affects general ease of mobility.
- Those of us who regularly eat spicy foods are more likely to produce more body odour because hot, spicy food, such as chilli peppers, stimulate the circulatory system causing body temperature to rise, causing the brain to activate the eccrine glands to begin cooling us down.
- People with specific medical conditions are more likely to produce increased body odor. Metabolic disorders, digestive conditions, and infections, for example, can cause us to sweat more and therefore produce more body odour. Diabetics, for instance, sweat more when blood glucose levels drop too low, causing the body to produce large amounts of adrenaline and norepinephrine, which causes excessive sweating.5 Those who suffer with Hyperthyroidism, an overactive thyroid gland, for example, are likely to sweat a great deal more than usual due to this condition, so in turn will produce more body odour.
- People taking certain types of medication, for example, antidepressants, can sweat more as a side effect of the medication, which will produce more body odour.
- Hormonal changes, such as the menopause, can cause excessive sweating as the body adjusts to changing oestrogen levels.6 Women tend to have more body odour when menstruating.
- People who regularly consume a lot of alcohol can be more prone to sweating. Drinking alcohol makes the blood vessels dilate, which can cause us to sweat.
- Men are more likely to produce more body odour than women simply because men tend to sweat more than women.
- People who experience anxiety or are dealing with stress can produce more body odour as the body sweats more when under emotional and physical duress.
- Smoking can cause us to sweat more. Nicotine causes the release of acetylcholine in the body which increases heart rate and body temperature causing us to perspire.
Lifestyle changes to help body odour
Strong or excessive body odour can be the cause of much distress and an embarrassing and sensitive issue for some people. There are both lifestyle and dietary changes we can make to help with this.
- ‘Fresh’ sweat or body odour is generally easier on the nostrils than ‘stale’ body odour so washing regularly can go a long way to steering clear of bad body odour.
- Dry skin properly. Making sure our skin is thoroughly dry before we get dressed after washing will prevent bacteria growing; the cause of body odour.
- Use a deodorant to help keep skin smelling fresh. It needn’t be a harsh one with skin nasty chemicals such as parabens and alcohol or aluminum. Opting for a natural crystal deodorant is an effective skin friendly solution.
- Wear clean clothes. Changing clothes regularly will help keep bad BO at bay.
- Wear clothing made of natural materials, such as 100% cotton or hemp. This will help your skin to breathe and produce less sweat.
- Increase water intake. Drinking water helps the body to flush out toxins and can also help us to produce less body odour. When we are dehydrated so is our skin, causing it to become dry. Dry, dehydrated skin causes increased bacteria on the skin which in turn increases body odor.7 Drink at least 8-10 glasses of water each day to keep the body hydrated and functioning properly.
- Drink less alcohol. In addition to alcohol causing the blood vessels to expand, causing us to sweat; it can also lead to dehydration; a cause of excessive sweating and body odour.
- Avoid highly processed foods, high in saturated fats. They’re basically not good for us. The body finds it difficult to break down this kind of fodder, meaning it works harder to do so, which inevitably results in the body building up more of a sweat as it overworks to process this type of food.
- Reduce consumption of caffeinated drinks. Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system, increasing heart rate and raising blood pressure, which in turn causes us to sweat. Drinking a hot caffeinated beverage is a double whammy as body temperature naturally rises when we consume a hot drink.
- Increase intake of fresh fruits and vegetables. Essential phytonutrients in the diet can ensure our bodies are functioning correctly and can have an impact on body odour. Specifically, green, leafy vegetables, containing lots of chlorophyll, are powerful natural internal cleansers and consuming lots of fresh fruit, in particular citrus fruits, helps to detox our insides by flushing out toxins, helping to keep what we sweat out smelling less pungent.8
- Eat plenty of probiotic yoghurt containing good bacteria which can help keep the digestive tract happy and promote a healthy gut.
Nutrition changes to help with body odour
Making changes in diet or addressing a deficiency in the body can help with issues of body odour.
The Psyllium Husk is a fibre that’s made from the seed husks of the Ispaghula, Plantago Ovato. It’s a native plant of East Asia, the Mediterranean, and India. For many thousands of years, the Psyllium Husk has been used in Western herbal medicine, for ailments such as constipation, diarrhoea, and problems of the genito-urinary tract. Due to its biological structure it’s classified as an indigestible fibre, it’s non-calorific and helps to bulk the contents of the gut. It’s approximately 30% insoluble fibre and 70% soluble fibre. Psyllium fibre is thought to be 8 times better than the fibre provided from oats.
The primary benefit of the Psyllium Husk is its cleansing capabilities and contribution to digestive regularity and health of the gut and colon.9 The gut is where most of the body’s immunity lies and the health of the digestive system is paramount to the health of the entire body; This includes healthy body odour. Fibre is beneficial because it feeds the ‘good’ bacteria in the gut; increasing levels of ‘healthy’ intestinal flora. “When the flora in your intestinal tract is out of balance, this can lead to body odour.”10
Lactobacillus acidophilus (probiotics)
Lactobacillus acidophilus is a type of lactic acid bacteria which rapidly ferments carbohydrates (sugar containing foods) and release lactic acids. This microorganism is classified under gram-positive bacteria.11 This highly effective probiotic could ease digestion and generally improve the health of the colon and digestive system. Body odour can be a problem if we are not digesting our food effectively. To properly absorb nutrients, synthesise vitamins, and eliminate waste effectively the intestines need certain levels of probiotics or ‘friendly’ bacteria. The word probiotic translates to 'for life'. A probiotics supplement can help the life of the gut and actively improve digestion.12 This can actually help improve body odour; A healthy and effective digestive system containing good quality intestinal flora can have a positive impact on a person’s body odour.
Zinc (Zn) is a trace element, that’s found in almost every cell in the human body and is a vital cofactor component of many enzymes. Zinc is essential, meaning it’s only found in the body due to its consumption in foods; we are unable to make it. Zinc has the vital role of improving metabolism, breaking down carbohydrates and helping cells to get rid of waste. A deficiency in zinc can stop this natural internal detoxification and lead to body odor.13 Zinc can be naturally sourced from lamb, oysters, pork, beef, nuts and legumes.
Magnesium is an essential mineral required by the body in large amounts. It’s known as an internal cleanser and deodorizer of gut flora, helping to clear the body of toxins which can cause bad body odour. A healthy, cleansed gut will mean the body produces sweat that is less pungent.14 A naturally rich source of magnesium is beetroot which could be sourced in supplement form by enriching a healthy and varied diet with beetroot tablets.15 Other natural sources of magnesium include dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, fish, beans, whole grains, avocados, yogurt, bananas, dried fruit and dark chocolate.
Vitamin B2 Deficiency
Essentially B Vitamins are crucial nutrients needed by the body for growth, development, and a range of other important functions. We know that when we feel stressed we sweat more. B-complex vitamins have been specifically linked to reducing stress. They are essential because they provide some of the basic structures required for the synthesisation of stress-relieving neurotransmitters, such as serotonin. Vitamin B is often referred to as the “anti-stress vitamin” because of its ability to fight the effects of stress.16 In addition to this, B vitamins are crucial for their role in metabolic function with the ability to “process and flush the bacterial wastes that can cause body odor.”17
Vitamin C, is also known by the names, Ascorbate and Ascorbic acid. It’s a water soluble vitamin, which means that compared to a fat soluble vitamin it must be consumed in much greater quantities because of poor storage capacity. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant. Vitamin C is found in many plant based foods including kale, mango, strawberries, carrots, cabbage and raspberries. A normal dietary intake per day is 75-125mg, however supplements provides between 250 and 2000mg. Increasing intake of vitamin c via food sources and a dietary supplement will significantly help to ensure levels of this essential vitamin are maintained.18 Vitamin C offers protection to skin cells and in turn helps to reduce bacterial growth; in turn helping to reduce body odour.19 Vitamin C is a natural mouth and breath freshener too. Keeping our bodies topped up with adequate levels of Vitamin C can help to combat problems of bad breath.20
Apple Cider Vinegar.
Apple cider vinegar is a natural and powerful antiseptic, antibacterial and antifungal agent, containing acetic acid, potassium, magnesium, probiotics and enzymes, making it great at eliminating the causes of body odour. It can help combat body odour by helping to restore balance to the pH level of your skin; which effectively makes it harder for bacteria to thrive.21 It can be used as a natural deodorant or applied topically to treat skin before washing off.
Body odour and sexual attraction
Body odour isn’t all bad! Human emotions are strongly stirred by smells. Human body odour or sweat contains “scent-communicating chemical compounds” called pheromones22 and has a large part to play in what could be called subconscious attraction between the sexes.
Own your own BO
Body odour happens to all of us and in itself isn’t a bad thing if managed effectively. If suffering from a medical condition which makes you sweat more, seeking advice from a medical professional or an alternative therapist about how best to manage this is advisable. Making some simple lifestyle and dietary shifts can help to decrease the amount we sweat and subsequently the amount of body odour we produce; while other lifestyle habits such as washing daily and watching how much alcohol we consume can also help to banish body odour. Overall, eating well and ensuring we are not deficient in any of the essential vitamins and minerals our body requires is key to optimum health and has a huge part to play in so many bodily functions. Looking after ourselves on the inside is key and bound to reflect on the outside.
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