Q. People sweat a lot when the weather is hot or when they indulge in a lot of activity. That is
generally followed by unpleasant body odour. The problem is usually solved, at least temporarily, by a
bath. However, I have noticed that some people give off a body odour within even 15 to 30 minutes of
a bath, whereas a few do not have much odour even after a jog! Is there any connection between food
and body odour? Are there some foods which make the problem worse/better?
A. 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
sulphur-containing compounds, thus making an individual produce the ‘rotten smell’ associated with
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.
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!!!
SHERYL AFONSO e D’SOUZA
CLINICAL NUTRITIONIST (NORBERT’S FITNESS STUDIO)
DEPARTMENT HEAD/ASST. PROFESSOR
(M.Sc. Food Technology), CARMEL COLLEGE