I’m not an authority on sweat or body odor but the topic interests me. I have personally gone from being super stinky to virtually odorless since changing my diet years ago. And I’ve observed the same in others after they’ve made major diet changes. Yet I know some people who still smell like death despite having a great diet and I know others who don’t smell at all despite having an atrocious diet.
After doing a little research on the subject, I learned that there may be a genetic component to body odor. Certain diseases can contribute to it. Medications can cause it. And various aspects of the diet can affect it.
The odor is not due to sweat itself – our sweat is virtually odorless. Certain chemicals that come out in the sweat can smell pretty foul, but mainly it is the scent of particular microbial activity that creates the body odor we are most familiar with. Bacteria multiply rapidly in the presence of sweat. As they break sweat down into acids we start to smell bad.
Where We Sweat
Apocrine glands - Most of the apocrine glands in the skin are located in the groin, armpits and around the nipples of the breast. The apocrine glands are mainly responsible for body odor because the sweat they produce is high in protein which bacteria can break down easily.
Eccrine glands – These glands are located all over the human body and produce sweat which is high in salt.
Bacteria That Thrive On Sweat
- Propionibacteria turn sweat into propionic acid. A subspecies of this bacteria is responsible for the smell of Swiss cheese. This bacteria is also one of the causes of acne.
- Staphylococcus epidermidis creates body odor by breaking sweat into isovaleric acid (3-methyl butanoic acid).
- Bacillus subtilis creates strong foot odor.
The Acids That Smell
● Propionic acid (propanoic acid) – Propionibacteria break amino acids down into propionic acid. Propionic acid has a vinegar-like smell.
● Isovaleric acid (3-methyl butanoic acid) - Isovaleric acid is another source of body odor as a result of actions of the bacteria Staphylococcus epidermidis. Not everyone can smell this acid!
Causes of Excessive Sweating
- Thyroid problems
- Sick with virus
- Some medications
Why Some Of Us Smell Worse Than Others
Getting the causes of excess sweating under control will go a long way towards improving health in general but, as I said before, sweat, per se, is not the problem. The problems are microbes and certain chemicals.
Some pungent foods can lead to body odor if the other organs of detoxification, like the liver, don’t eliminate their byproducts.
If microbes are the problem, there is a chance you can change your skin flora. If the bacteria responsible for body odor can be tamed, then the gut probably plays a big role. Compromised gut health can be caused by:
- Fermentation of carbs due to malabsorption
- SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth)
- Drinking chlorinated water
- Food allergies
- Diarrhea and constipation
Solutions for BO
Establishing a healthy colony of microbes and strengthening the immune system so that it can fight off pathogens will likely help to control body odor. Fermented foods and probiotics will help re-establish a healthy community of microbes. Avoiding chemicals, alcohol (in some people), and sugar are equally important for maintaining gut health.
According to the study linked to above, citral, citronellal, and geraniol are all “fragrant agents that inhibit the generation of isovaleric acid at low concentrations”. As you work to establish good health on the inside, these might help on the outside.