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Body odor is primarily caused when sweat produced by apocrine glands is broken down by bacteria that live on the surface of the skin. Apocrine sweat contains proteins and lipids that bacteria love to feed on. The end result of this process are waste compounds in the form of sulfides, propionic acids and isoveric acids. Each are found at varying degrees in sweat, and each have distinct smells that we most often associate with body odor.

Sulfur compounds - tend to have an odor similar to that of rotting eggs.

Proiponic acid - gives off an odor comparable to vinegar.

Isoveric acid - often has been compared to the smell of old cheese.

In addition to the interaction between sweat and bacteria, other factors that cause body odor come from inside the body. For example, much of what you eat can play a role in how you smell. Foods contain many different types of compounds. Certain foods tend to contain high amounts of sulfides which get absorbed into the body as food is digested. These sulfides find there way out of the body via openings such as openings in the skin, and through the mouth.

Common Causes of Body Odor

Now that we've established a general overview about body odor, we will focus on specific contributors to it. As we know, sweat and food are primary reasons that cause us to smell. However, to what degree it affects body odor can differ greatly from person to person. Other factors can include certain medical conditions as well.

Biological & Genetic

Ethnicity - People of East-Asian decent naturally have fewer apocrine sweat glands than other ethnicities, and thus experience less of an issue with body odor. Obviously, if there is less apocrine sweat being produced, there is less material for bacteria to breakdown into smelly compounds.

Hormonal Changes - Fluctuation in hormone levels can affect how much a person sweats. Women who go through menopause often experience hot flashes which in turn causes them to perspire more.


A common side effect of many drugs and over the counter medications is increased sweating. This is most common in antidepressant, antipsychotic and pain reliever drugs.

Stress & Anxiety

When a person is under stress, the body's natural response is to increase sweat. The reason for this is thought to be related to a flight or fight response. Others theorize that because sweat contains pheromones, it was used as a way to signal signs of danger or distress to others near by.

Medical conditions

Illness and disease can alter a person's body odor. Scurvy can cause the body to smell like rotting flesh. Diabetes can make a person smell fruity and in some instances, like ammonia. Trimethylminuria is a genetic condition in which the compound trimethylamine isn't properly metabolized, and the result is a fishy odor. Phenylketonuria is a liver disorder than can cause a person to have a musty, old smell.

What Can Help To Reduce Causes of Body Odor

Deodorants & Antiperspirants

The most common method to control body odor and sweat is with roll on, stick and spray type deodorants and antiperspirants. These products work by controlling both surface bacteria as well as sweat production. Alcohol is the most common ingredients used as an antimicrobial. In the case of sweat prevention, aluminum based salts such as aluminum chlorohydrate or aluminum zircronium are used. As they are dissolved in sweat, they form a barrier over sweat glands which in turn prevents sweat from being released onto the surface of the skin.

Chlorophyllin Supplements

Chlorophyllin has been used as a deodorant for a long time. It works internally by binding to compounds that cause odor and neutralizing them before they are emitted from the body. It also has the added benefit of working to reduce breath odor and foot odor as well.

Breathable Clothing

Wearing clothing that allows air to pass through easily will help to cool the body and minimize sweat. Clothing made from natural fabrics or designed for athletic wear tend to be the most effective. Synthetic fabrics such as polyester tends to trap heat and cause you to sweat more.

Eat Your Vegetables

It's not vegetables per say that will reduce body odor, but supplementing foods high in sulfide compounds with vegetables will. As previously mentioned, foods that contain high amounts of sulfur compounds tend to cause body odor. By balancing out your diet with vegetables and good starches, it will help to limit the amount of sulfide intake.

Foot Odor Remedies

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Body Odor: What Causes Body Odor And What Can Be Done To Reduce It

Foot Odor Remedies