A whiff blowing in your direction makes you wrinkle up your nose as your colleague walks towards you! How often have you caught yourself holding your breath around some people, waiting for the conversation to end so that you could hurry away from the offensive odour emanating from him or her?
Human body odour originates from body parts such as the axilla, scalp, mouth and lungs, genital and anal regions, feet etc. Skin is colonized by a number of bacteria and their metabolic activity on either exfoliating skin cells or chemicals produced in the skin glands results in external body odour.
The apocrine skin glands, which are mainly concentrated in the face, genital region, and, in particular, the armpits, produce short-chain fatty acids and androstene steroids together with other compounds, all of which are responsible for the odour associated with people.
Body odour is influenced by a variety of factors. Environmental influences include emotional state, reproductive status, health and diet. Food influences body odour because certain by-products get secreted as our bodies break down what we eat, and then react with the bacteria on our skin, causing an unpleasant smell at times.
Foods containing particularly high levels of sulphur are the major culprits when it comes to body odour. Cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, radish, soy products are known offenders as their consumption increases the availability of sulphur to skin bacteria, allowing them to make more sulfur-containing compounds, thus making an individual produce the ‘rotten smell’ associated with sulphur.
Meat is also a smell-inducing sulphur-rich food as are garlic and onions – spicy foods that have a really high concentration of volatile organic compounds that easily permeate the atmosphere around a person through his/her pores on the skin!
Asparagus is another typical vegetable that causes a ‘pungent’ sweat. Increased alcohol intake has also been associated with malodour. The much-promoted healthy fish and eggs can also alter body odour in people who have a genetic disorder called trimethylaminuria, an inborn error of metabolism where people can’t break down certain types of protein. Smaller sweat offenders include vinegar, cheese and fermented milk products.
The only known way to prevent food-related body odour is to exclude the miscreant food from your diet permanently! Sometimes, increasing your soluble fibre intake by way of consuming oats, apples, citrus fruits, barley, and bran may help bind with the volatile organic compounds in the gut, thereby reducing their odour-causing potential. Drinking more than your designated share of water can also help tackle body odour.
On a parting note ….. While some people are like sniffer dogs – able to detect body odour from a mile away – others just can’t smell it! They just don’t have the receptors in their olfactory bulbs. What spells the difference? Just like so many other things, genetics. So, here’s hoping you are genetically gifted with a malfunctioning nose!!!