Body Odour


Everyone has a unique body odour, which can be pleasant or subtle. 

Body odour develops when lipids (fats) secreted in the sweat are digested by bacteria on the skin. This process causes gasses to be released as a by-product, creating toxic waste, which contributes to body odour.

Body odour can change due to hormonal changes, excessive sweating or poor hygiene, but sudden changes are typically caused by environmental factors, medications or the foods we eat.

Sudden and persistent changes to a person’s normal body odour can sometimes be a sign of underlying health concerns which should be investigated further. 

The diet we follow can also have a huge impact on our body odour, with specific foods having a more profound effect on the odours produced.

Also, poor digestion can lead to bad breath and foul-smelling gas as undigested food creates unpleasant by-products. Food intolerances and food sensitivities can also lead to excess gas production.

Consumption of some foods can create a temporary change in body odour, which dissipates once the food is metabolized.

If the same food is consumed regularly, the odour could persist. The aroma of foods and spices such as garlic, onion and curry can be carried in the sweat and on the breath.

Studies show that people who consume a healthy diet with sufficient fruits and vegetables have a more pleasant body odour than those who don’t, regardless of how much they sweat. However, those who consume high amounts of carbohydrates have less pleasant-smelling sweat.

Consumption of high amounts of animal proteins can also change body odour.

High anxiety levels can increase sweat production and an over production of stress hormones can contribute to changes in body odour.

Diabetics with unmanaged blood sugar levels can develop complications related to the build-up of ketones (diabetic ketoacidosis), which are secreted into the blood and urine, causing a fruity odour on the breath. Likewise, those who follow a ketogenic diet can also have a change in breath and body odour for the same reason.

The chemical compounds in high sugar foods upset the blood sugar balance creating a bad body odour when combined with bacteria on the skin.

Body odour changes due to food consumption can be managed by increasing variety and reducing the foods that cause odours.

Body odour, whether it be breath, urine, sweat or gas, occurs due to the way sulfur compounds are metabolized. Foods with a higher sulfur content, such as garlic, onions, cumin and asparagus are the predominant culprits for causing body odour.

If high amounts of alcohol are consumed, the remnants seep through the pores and sweat glands and can take a while to dissipate.

Here’s why the following foods produce odours:

Asparagus – smelly urine occurs when the sulfur compound mercaptan breaks down in the digestive system. If your urine doesn’t smell after eating asparagus, it could be that you don’t have the enzyme that’s needed to break mercaptan down.

Beetroot – these are high in methyl, which breaks down in the digestive system to trimethylamine (TMA) which can result in a very pronounced fishy smell in certain individuals.

Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts) – these are sulfur-rich vegetables, which help to rid the body of toxins, but if you are unable to break down the sulfur compounds it can result in flatulence that smells like rotten eggs.

Garlic – the sulfur compounds allicin and allin are released when garlic is cut or crushed. Allicin breaks down quickly and converts to other substances which cause bacteria and sweat to combine, resulting in a strong odour.

Coffee – caffeine in coffee stimulates the nervous system so can increase sweating. Coffee is also highly acidic so can cause a dry mouth, which can cause an increased production of oral bacteria, thus creating bad breath.

Spices – curry and cumin are absorbed into the bloodstream and can stay in the pores of the skin for days, thereby creating an odour.

High Fiber – foods that are high in fiber contain gasses such as hydrogen, carbon dioxide and methane. When digested in the large intestine, the gases that build up need to be released. A high consumption can create flatulence and rather noxious smelling gas as well as a change in body odour.

Trimethylaminuria – this is a metabolic disorder which makes a person incapable of metabolizing the proteins in fish. Fish consumption will result in pungent body odour affecting breath, sweat and urine.

Listen to my interview with Brad Kirsten from Radio Cape Pulpit on 12 November to learn more.

Listen to my next interview on Thursday at 7.45am