What Does Your Body Odor Reveal About Your Health
Whether it’s smelly feet or stinky armpits, body odor can be really embarrassing, especially when you’re attending an important meeting or special social gathering. More importantly, how you smell can actually reveal a lot about your health. It is natural for your body to have some odors, which can be kept under control using appropriate hygiene practices and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. However, persistent odor issues may be indicative of an underlying health problem you may not be aware of. Therefore, knowing how you smell can prevent embarrassment and enhance your self-esteem, and could also help you detect a potential health issue. First and foremost, identifying the root cause of your odor is pertinent to successfully dealing with the problem.
Why Do You Smell Unpleasant In The First Place?
Body odor is defined as any scent emitted by your body that others find unpleasant. When you think of odor coming from your body, the first things that spring to mind are sweaty armpits, palms, and feet. However, the list can be extended to bad breath, pungent smelling flatulence, and urine.
Diet, hygiene, mood, and hormones play a significant role in how you smell. Therefore, having a nutritious diet and following good hygiene practices can make you feel and more importantly, smell fresh. It’s not totally unusual for your body to have an odor, however, if you smell unpleasant despite following a healthy regime, your scent may be indicative of an underlying health issue. An unusual odor from the body may also indicate your body is in need of detoxification because your elimination system is no longer able to support the toxic overload.
What Does Your Body Odor Say About Your Health?
Did you know your body odor can indicate the status of your health? People susceptible to body odor are those who eat spicy food, consume large quantities of red meat, are obese, or have health problems. Being aware of how you smell can help you deal with an issue before it worsens.
Below are some common body odors and what they indicate:
Odor From Sweating
Just like fingerprints, every person has a unique body scent, which some scientists refer to as an “odorprint.” Though humans may not be able to detect this scent, certain animals with sensitive noses, such as dogs, can differentiate between distinct odorprints of people. This is how sniffer dogs track fugitives and why the same perfume smells a little bit different on each person.
Your body’s sweat glands, the eccrine and apocrine glands, are present in the skin. Whereas eccrine glands are found all over the body, apocrine glands are only located in certain regions, such as the ears, armpits, breasts, and genitals. Sweat glands are responsible for regulating your body temperature by producing sweat to cool down your body when it is hot.
Sweat is odorless to the human nose, however, bacteria present on your skin breaks down the sweat into acids resulting in an unpleasant odor. Sweat from apocrine glands can smell particularly unpleasant because, unlike eccrine glands that produce high-salt sweat, apocrine glands produce sweat that is rich in protein and certain organic compounds, which gives it a bad odor. Apocrine glands are active after puberty and it is at this stage of your life that your body starts emitting a natural odor.
Sweating is a normal bodily function so it’s normal to have an odor. You may also sweat more under stressful situations resulting in a stronger odor. However, if you experience unusual odor from sweating or sweat excessively, such as night sweats also known as “nocturnal perspiration,” it could indicate a health issue, like kidney or liver problems.
Here is a list of the types of body odor due to sweating and what they may indicate:
Fishy Odor – A fishy odor may be due to a rare metabolic disorder, known as fish odor syndrome or “trimethylaminuria,” that occurs when your body is unable to break-down certain compounds in protein-rich foods. This is usually caused by small amounts of flavin, an enzyme produced by the body. As a result, your sweat or breath emits a fishy odor after eating high protein foods such as fish, eggs, certain vegetables, and legumes. People with this problem often suffer psychologically. Certain soaps and lotions can help neutralize the odor.
Rotten Eggs Odor – Red meat contains sulfur which has a smell similar to rotten eggs. When meat is not digested properly your body may emit a sulfurous odor. Consider avoiding red meat for a few weeks and you may notice an improvement.
Bitter Odor – A bitter smell despite having a long shower may indicate kidney or liver problems. A bitter odor can also result from abnormal fat metabolism or nausea.
Excrement Odor – When your digestive system is not functioning optimally, your gut may produce certain foul smelling chemicals. This can make your excrement, as well as your sweat, smell awful.
Alcohol Odor – Your body smelling of alcohol may indicate you drank heavily the day before. Excessive alcohol consumption means your liver cannot operate properly and as a result, your body is unable to completely metabolize the alcohol. This can make your sweat smell like alcohol.
Excessive Sweat – If you experience excessive sweating, even under normal conditions, it could be due to a condition known as hyperhidrosis.
Stress-Induced Odor – You may become drenched in sweat during strenuous workouts since your eccrine glands produce high-salt sweat all over your skin to cool down your body when it’s hot or you are doing any physical activity. This sweat is basically odorless to humans and you may smell absolutely fine until bacteria starts to metabolize the sweat. However, when you are stressed or in fear, the apocrine glands become activated and release sweat rich in lipids, fat, and proteins, resulting in a strong sulfurous odor. Stress activates your sympathetic nervous system, which causes sweaty palms, a racing heart, and a dry mouth.
Your body is equipped with a NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response System that helps deal with stress by signaling to your adrenal glands to release the anti-stress hormone, cortisol. However, repeated stress can overburden your adrenals reducing your body’s stress-fighting ability and can leave you feeling fatigued. Frequently experiencing fatigue along with other symptoms such as insomnia, low energy levels, brain fog, low concentration levels, anxiety, and difficulty waking can be signs of Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS).
Your skin is one of the major detoxification centers of your body, excreting heavy metals and toxins through your sweat. Most people resort to body sprays and antiperspirants to keep sweat-related odors under control. However, prolonged use of these products can lead to clogged pores, skin rashes, and may increase your risk of breast cancer.
To naturally alleviate body odor due to sweat, fresh lemons may be able to help. In addition to working as a natural skin cleanser and making you instantly smell fresh, lemon juice helps balance the pH level of your skin, opens up clogged pores, and discourages bacterial growth. Consider adding the juice of 2 to 3 lemons, along with the peels, to the water in your tub before bathing.
Odor From Breath
People are highly conscious of their breath. They always keep chewing gum handy in case of an emergency. But dealing with bad breath may not be so easy despite following strict oral hygiene practices.
Here is what your breath reveals about your health:
Halitosis – Nobody wants halitosis. Apart from being embarrassing, it can hamper your self-confidence and most people that have it spend a lot of time worrying about it. Bad breath may be due to cavities, tooth decay, poor breakfast choices, dry mouth, tobacco, poor oral hygiene, certain health problems, or side effects of certain medications. Consistent bad breath could also be a sign of other health problems like bleeding gums, a sore throat, a sinus infection, tonsil stones, acid reflux, liver or kidney disease, bronchitis, post-nasal drip, digestion problems, the common cold, or even lactose intolerance.
Fighting bad breath can be daunting but avoiding tobacco, practicing good oral hygiene, and choosing the right foods can improve your breath. Oil pulling is also known to be remarkably helpful in reducing bad breath by detoxifying the entire oral cavity. In addition to giving your mouth a deep cleanse, the technique may also provide immense health benefits.
Sweet Breath – Fruity-smelling breath may sound better than halitosis, but sweet breath could be an indication of something more serious—diabetic ketoacidosis. This occurs when your body has low insulin levels because glucose cannot be broken down into fuel. Under such circumstances, your body uses fat as fuel instead resulting in the release of ketones into your bloodstream. High ketone levels can be dangerous and even life-threatening. To ensure you are not diabetic, be sure to get your sugar and insulin levels checked. Sweet breath can also be a sign of liver problems, which can be detected by a liver test.
Flatulence may give you relief from an excess buildup of gas, however, particularly foul flatulence may indicate a virus or bacteria in the gut, lactose intolerance, or other digestive issues. Unabsorbed food, constipation, eating too fast, and any alteration in the delicate balance of the gut bacteria can lead to gas building up. Taking time to eat your food and certain yoga postures, such as the wind relieving pose, can offer some help.
Foul Urine Odor
Urine normally does not have a strong odor. In some cases, it may smell like ammonia due to dehydration. Drinking plenty of water can help solve this problem. However, if your urine smells weird, this could be due to an infection. And just like fruity breath, fruity smelling urine may be a sign of diabetes, and should always be checked with your doctor.
Your foot contains over 250 000 sweat glands. The bacteria found on your feet metabolize sweat resulting in foot odor. Closing up your feet in socks and shoes all the time can encourage bacterial growth. Consider wearing footwear made of a breathable material or natural fabric. Wearing the same shoes every day is not recommended. Also, change your socks regularly to keep your feet clean and smelling good. Excessive foot odor may indicate hyperhidrosis—sweat glands of your feet produce too much sweat. A persistent foot odor may also be a sign of a fungal infection.
Showering may not enough to keep your feet clean. Try using a lemon and salt foot soak as a great natural remedy for foot odor. Add the juice of two lemons along with the peels and a ¼ cup of sea salt to a tub of lukewarm water. Soak your feet for about 10 to 15 min allowing the mixture to cleanse your feet. Both lemon and salt discourage bacterial growth and leave your feet smelling fresh.
These are some of the most common types of body odor you may experience. Being aware of your body odors can provide deeper insight into your overall health.
Body odor is absolutely natural. Maintaining hygiene, healthy lifestyle practices, and a nutritious diet can significantly help you to overcome any potential odor-related issues. However, any unusual or persistent odor may be a sign of a health problem. Weird odors from your sweat may point to a metabolic disorder, kidney or liver problems, constipation, digestive problems, nausea, abnormal fat metabolism, alcoholism, or an excessive buildup of toxins in your body. Certain conditions such as stress and fear can also cause body odor.
Bad breath may indicate halitosis or another oral issue, whereas fruity breath may indicate diabetes. Foul flatulence may be due to unabsorbed food, excess gas buildup, or gastric issues. Moreover, foot odor is common if you wear shoes for long periods of time, however, excessive foot odor may be a sign of a fungal infection or even hyperhidrosis. Remarkably, natural remedies are excellent against odors. However, any unusual odor should be checked out to ensure it is not a sign of some underlying health problem.
© Copyright 2018 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.
Dr. Lam’s Key Question
What are the various methods of keeping body odor under control?
Following a healthy lifestyle and good hygiene practices can help fight body odor. Include fresh fruits and green vegetables in your diet, use breathable fabric clothing and footwear, add vinegar or lemon juice and sea salt to your bathtub, get your digestive and gut health checked out, or do a mild body detox to significantly reduce odors.