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Ten Things to Know About Body Odor

Peterson, James A. Ph.D., FACSM

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ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal: May/June 2018 - Volume 22 - Issue 3 - p 48
doi: 10.1249/FIT.0000000000000393
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  1. THE NOSE KNOWS. Having mild body odor, on occasion, is normal. Excessive body odor, however, can lead to several negative outcomes. For example, not only can it be a source of considerable discomfort for others, it also can be very embarrassing for the person who is experiencing this unpleasant occurrence.
  2. NOT THE WHOLE STORY. Although poor personal hygiene typically is the primary contributor to body odor, there can be other causes as well, including a nutrient deficiency, gastrointestinal problems, medical conditions, and the presence of certain toxins in the body. Individuals who do not change their clothes regularly or who smoke also are very likely to have a disagreeable body odor.
  3. UNWARRANTED BLAME. An unpleasant body odor and sweat seem to go hand-in-hand. Sweating does not cause body odor, however. In reality, sweat is almost totally odorless. Rather, the pungent smell is a byproduct of bacteria that are growing in and on the body — bacteria that thrive in a warm, moist environment, such as in the presence of sweat.
  4. MALODOROUS BREATH. In an attempt to neutralize any evidence of unwanted odors, people often brush their teeth or reach for a mint after eating well-known pungent foods, such as garlic, onions, and coffee. These efforts, unfortunately, often are in vain. In reality, aromatic foods can permeate the skin and subsequently trigger unwanted odors, which can persist for up to 24 hours.
  5. JUST LIKE A FINGERPRINT. Everyone has a distinct odor. Some scientists refer to it as a person’s odorprint. This odor type is determined, in part, by an individual’s genes. Odor type information is transmitted through body fluids, such as sweat and urine. This factor is why dogs can track fugitives on the run and why perfume may smell slightly different on one person than it does on another.
  6. THE SMELL OF AGE. It’s not clear why body odor may change as people age, but often it does. One plausible explanation for such an occurrence involves the fact that body odors originate from an interaction between the secretions of the body’s skin glands and bacteria that are present on the skin. As a person ages, the activity of different types of skin glands changes, thereby contributing to the possible existence of “old people’s smell.”
  7. UNDERARM UPHEAVAL. Certain areas of the body, including the underarms, contain a specific type of sweat gland (i.e., apocrine) that is responsible for a person having a problem with body odor. These glands, also known as scent glands, expel a secretion that subsequently breaks down, leading to the production of several substances, such as ammonia, which can cause offensive underarm odor.
  8. FLUSHING THE SYSTEM. The world is full of toxins. When toxins accumulate in the body over a long time, unwanted body odor can result. One of the best ways to remove these toxins is to exercise on a regular basis. When people exercise, they sweat, which helps to detoxify the body by expelling toxins through perspiration.
  9. THE THINKING-STINKING CONNECTION. Body odor can be more than a purely physical problem. In fact, mental factors can contribute to this issue, as well. Stress, anxiety, and depression, for example, can lead to unwanted body odor. In that regard, trying to achieve moments of peace and serenity can be a viable antidote for such a situation.
  10. HEALTH ALERT. Everyone has their own unique smell. Some types of body odor, however, may be an indication of the presence of certain health problems. For example, sweat that smells like bleach may be a sign of a liver or kidney disease. In turn, body odor that has a fruity smell may point to diabetes. Furthermore, fish-like body odor may be an inkling of a rare genetic disorder called trimethylaminuria.
© 2018 American College of Sports Medicine.