Despite the attempts of deodorant ads everywhere to convince us otherwise, women do not naturally smell like lilies and meadows. We all sweat, and we all smell to varying degrees in response to our perspiration. There is nothing wrong or weird about it. But unusual body odor from sweat can be a sign of various underlying bodily conditions, choices, and life stages — not just an indicator that you need to go and take several hot showers.
This unpleasant aroma is really the byproduct of sweat and the microscopic environment (microbiome) of your skin. Find out what really makes your sweat smell, what you can do to control it, and how changes in your body odor can alert you to changes in your health.
Bacteria: The Originators of Body Odor
Like you read above, blame the bacteria, not the sweat. Whenever you are physically active, under emotional stress, or overheated, your body seeks to cool itself. It’s your evaporative cooling system. Excess heat is minimized by the evaporation of liquid through pores on the surface of your skin. A pungent smell is produced when sweat contacts the bacteria you normally have living on your skin.
The stench is a byproduct of bacteria consuming the sweat secreted by sweat glands. When bacteria break down sweat, they produce compounds called thioalcohols (pronounced “thigh-o-alcohols”). These compounds can smell like onions, meat, and sulfur. It’s the thioalcohols produced by bacteria, not sweat, that make your armpits stink. The bacteria—which are a normal and healthy part of your skin’s microbiome—most responsible for offensive body odor is Staphylococcus hominis.
Different Sweat, Different Scent?
While you do sweat during exercise, high heat, and stress—not all sweat smells equally. This is because there are two kinds of sweat glands in your body. Each gland produces odorless perspiration; however, their location and unique microbiomes influence their smell.
Eccrine glands (pronounced “e-krine”) are found all over the body. These glands release mostly water and are activated when internal body temperature rises. Apocrine glands (pronounced “ape-o-krine”) develop during puberty and excrete waste in the form of proteins and lipids. Stress can trigger sweat production in the apocrine glands.
Apocrine sweat glands are associated with body odor and are found in abundance near hair follicles. These glands populate the skin of your armpits and groin. Not surprisingly, these two body regions are the main sources of body odor. The bacteria that produce stinky thioalcohols love to live near apocrine glands. That is why “stress sweat” smells worse than the sweat produced by heat or exercise.
Here's the basic way body odor works: in many cases, it's not actually something stinky being exuded from the pores in sweat form. Mostly, odor is caused because sweat on the skin, in itself odorless, is an excellent environment for bacteria, and the bacteria break down the sweat into acids with an unpleasant aroma. In other cases, it's the result of certain substances emerging from the pores and causing a stink on their own terms, but that tends to be associated with either diet or certain medical conditions.
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Here are seven things that your body odor could be trying to tell you. We are not doctors, to get professional advice please consult your medical professional.
1. You Might Have A Metabolic Disorder
This is a very rare disorder so it's likely not going to be your first diagnosis, but it's fascinating anyway. A 2011 study found that up to a third of people with unexplained body odor might have a rare genetic disorder that fiddles with your metabolism, and is known as trimethylaminuria, or, charmingly enough, "the fishy-smelling syndrome". The basic problem for people with this condition is that they lack the enzyme that breaks down a compound called trimethyamine, and so it builds up and comes out through the pores. The smell? You guessed it: overwhelmingly fishy.
2. You're Under Stress
The Mayo Clinic has a good explanation for why stress does actually make us sweat in a specific way that can increase body odor. It turns out that we actually have two different types of sweat glands, the ecrrine and the apocrine. Eccrine glands excrete the sweat we use to cool down, which is mostly water. Apocrine sweat, on the other hand, is released when we're stressed or upset, and is very conducive to bacteria throwing a sweat-based pool party. So if you're finding yourself smelling strange after long, anguished meetings, you're not cracking up; your body's reacting to the heightened stress levels.
3. You're Eating Certain Foods & Drinking Booze
The Berkeley Wellness Center has an entire list of foods that may be contributing to body odor, from sulfurous foods like broccoli to red meat and alcohol (the famous "booze sweat" during a hangover). The cruciferous veggies of the broccoli family, which also include cauliflower and cabbage, create sulfur build-up that's then excreted from the body in sweat form, but scientists recommend that you can actually reduce the odor after-effects by cooking them in water with salt.
4. You May Have Diabetes, Or Liver Or Kidney Problems
These are all classed in the same category because they all place unfamiliar substances into your sweat because of a failure in the body's normal processes. Kidney failure puts urea into your sweat excretions, diabetes puts in acetone (yes,the stuff in nail polish remover), and liver failure means an uptick in methyl mercaptan. All of these things smell faintly different, which means they can be used as diagnostic tools; and, as you can guess, they're all medical emergencies, so if you detect any of those smells head to a GP immediately.
5. You Could Have A Thyroid Problem
One of the unfortunate things that holds true about body odor is that if you're prone to sweating more, you're also likely to smell more. It's just the nature of the beast. And one particular thyroid issue, Grave's disease, is associated with excessive sweating. Grave's disease is basically a case of a severely overactive thyroid, wherein the thyroid reacts to an immune system malfunction by going into overdrive. Thyroids are responsible for regulating the metabolism, so one going the speed of a race car produces a seriously unsettled body, from shakes to rapid heartbeat to poor sleep and, yep, buckets of sweat.
6. You're On Medications That Cause Sweating
The equation of more sweat making more odor is, unfortunately, pretty foolproof, and the sweat can also be caused by medicinal side-effects. Some analgesic pain medications, SSRI antidepressants, hormonal medications, and heart-based drugs have excessive sweating as part of their known catalog of side-effects, so you'll have to be prepared for a bit of body odor increase if you're on a course of any of those meds.
7. You're In The Midst Of A Hormonal Fluctuation
Hormonal shifts are a big cause of sweating increases in women, from premenopause (the period right before menopause) to the early teen years. Women who are pregnant frequently report huge waves of sweatiness in response to the massive hormonal upheaval of conception and carrying a baby; so if you're at any point in your life where hormones are rampant (or you're on medications with hormonal side-effects), you may have found your culprit.
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Nutrition and Body Odor
We talked earlier about one of the causes of body odor, but here is a breakdown!
The following foods have been shown to increase body odor.
Eating conservative amounts of lean red meat throughout the week is not only healthier for you, but can help you smell better. There is mounting evidence that reduced red-meat consumption is better for heart health and digestion. An interesting scientific study indicated that the same can be said for your individual aroma. After a two-week trial period, women found the scent of men who laid off red meat significantly more pleasant and attractive than those who upped their red meat consumption. If you want to impress your date, try to steer clear of red meat.
Evidence of a drinking binge is found on your breath and your sweat. When your body metabolizes alcohol, a compound called acetic acid is released. Acetic acid is commonly found in vinegar and gives off a strong scent. Your pores expel the excess acetic acid created by alcohol metabolism. When this pungent compound is added to your sweat, you may notice its distinct aroma. Make sure to drink responsibly and pair alcoholic beverages with healthy, high-protein and high-fiber meals. This will help slow digestion and reduce any off-putting odors.
Some foods are naturally fragrant and the chemical compounds that cause their smell are not entirely broken down before exiting the body. These foods include curries, garlic, and onions. Spicy foods are added to meals to increase flavor and are great for giving low-calorie lunches and dinners extra zest. But the high sulfur content of these ingredients contributes to their aroma, and causes a distinct odor that lingers on your breath. The same odor seeps through sweat glands and mixes with the bacteria on your skin to create a particularly unpleasant smell.
But you don’t have to be relegated to mild food. When used in moderation, spicy foods are great for your health. These herbs and spices are believed to boost metabolism and are powerful antioxidants. By periodically including them in your diet, you can avoid the stench while reaping their free-radical-fighting benefits.
Aside from its well-known ability to sabotage a healthy diet, junk food can also contribute to body odor. Highly processed and prepackaged foods are loaded with calories and sugar, and lack an aromatizing molecule called chlorophyll.
Chlorophyll—the green color in plants—is a potent antioxidant naturally found in green vegetables. It neutralizes bad smelling odors across the board, from sweat to flatulence. It can also help remove unwanted compounds from your body (detox). Chlorophyll can literally sandwich unwanted molecules between two molecules of itself, literally holding on to it until our bodies can excrete it. So getting your fill of greens may be the trick to reducing smelly body odor.
Smelly Signals—What Your Body Odor May be Telling You
While your personal hygiene routine may include covering up any distracting body odor, it is important to know that changes in your scent can signal changes in your health.
Increased pressure from home, work, and school can cause a noticeable increase in body odor. Perspiration is ramped up during periods of physical and emotional stress, providing plenty of sweat with which odor-causing bacteria can mix.
These body odor changes don’t just occur under your arms. Your feet and breath can be affected, too.
Smelly feet manifest themselves during puberty and can linger all the way into adulthood. However, especially pungent-smelling feet and shoes can be caused by fungal growth. Fungi thrive in moist, warm environments. Damp tennis shoes and sweaty feet are perfect candidates for fungal infection.
To avoid attracting any strange fungus, don’t go barefoot in the gym locker room. Keep your athletic shoes, socks, and, most of all, your feet dry. A dry environment is unattractive to fungi and can keep them from stinking up your shoes. So, change your socks often and rotate between two or three pair of shoes if you need to allow them to adequately dry.
Sweet-smelling breath is another noticeable change in body odor. In healthy people, this usually happens when carbohydrates are under-consumed so instead the body breaks down fatty acids to use as energy. Fatty acid breakdown produces acetone and other ketones which give the breath a sweet, fruity smell.
Although sweating may feel and smell unpleasant, it is a natural and healthy process. To avoid overpowering body odor, take into consideration what actually causes the smell. Keeping clean and do armpit detox monthly . And take notice of changes to your body odor that may indicate a change in your health.
FIND A WAY TO SWEAT IT OUT!
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