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Whether you are someone who wears deodorant, perfume, or nothing at all, everyone has a body odor. Chances are, you probably don’t notice you do since we’ve become accustomed to our own body and the way it smells. But everyone has a natural scent — it’s completely normal.
Humans perspire through several sweat glands throughout the body, “the hands, feet, armpits, and groin in particular,” Dr. Taz Bahtia, Integrative Health Expert and Author of Super Woman Rx explains, to regulate our body temperature. “Sweat is usually odorless when secreted from the sweat gland,” Dr. Niket Sonpal notes. “Bacteria break down the secreted sweat and lead to the characteristic body odor,” he continues.
Body odor doesn’t always mean you had an extra sweaty day and need to take a shower — an unusual body odor can be your body trying to communicate with you that something is amiss. While you shouldn’t jump to conclusions or assume the worst, it’s essential to pay attention to any new smells or bodily changes that persist and consult with a doctor if it raises any concerns.
There are many factors that can lead to changes in body odor: stress, side effects from a medication, what you eat, an underlying health issue. It’s impossible to self-diagnose, and you won’t know for sure what’s going on with your body in particular until you visit your doctor. However, there are some common reasons your body odor has been off as of late, which could help you figure out what questions you should ask at the doctor’s office.
Below is a list of potential things your body odor could be telling you about your health, explained with the help of Integrative Health Expert Dr. Taz Bahtia, gastroenterologist and adjunct Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine, Dr. Niket Sonpal, and nutritionist, Adrienne Dowd.
In addition to several factors like genetics, hygiene, and overall health, the foods and drinks you consume have a direct impact on the way you smell. “While garlic, onion, cruciferous veggies, meat, and spices can cause specific body odors, a diet high in processed foods can have a much more dramatic effect on your scent. Processed foods are high in chemicals your body must process and excrete. Our liver and skin are our natural detoxifiers. So, when you drink alcohol, for example, it’s excreted through your pores and respiratory system,” nutritionist Adrienne Dowd explains.
“Just some simple swaps like eating plant-based foods with good quality proteins, and drinking clean filtered water (at least half your body weight in ounces) may be enough to troubleshoot that B.O.,” Adrienne Dowd recommends.
While changing up what you eat can be a way to manage body odor, you should never feel like you are depriving your body. Work with what you have available to you, and if there aren’t other food options accessible, it’s important to be gentle with yourself when it comes to your expectations. As long as your body odor isn’t a red flag regarding something more serious, you’re OK!
Many medications and supplements, both over-the-counter and prescription, can cause body odor. “Some medications or supplements contain ingredients that make you sweat more and give a smell to your sweat,” Dr. Bhatia points out. One such example is acetaminophen (Tylenol), according to Healthline. If you’re concerned about potential side effects, always read the labels of any medications and supplements you’re unfamiliar with before taking them.
Stress can wreak havoc on our bodies in numerous ways, our B.O. included. “The sweat produced when you are stressed, anxious, or scared has a different scent than when you are happy. And you guessed it. It smells worse,” Adrienne Dowd points out. While stress is an inevitable part of life, especially in our highly-connected and demanding world, you don’t have to let it ruin your life and wellbeing. If you’re having a particularly stressful day, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone, and it’s OK.
Knowing your natural body odor is important because a particularly strong, new smell can be your body’s way of communicating that something needs to be checked out. For example, diabetes, liver and kidney disease, fungal infection, or even urinary tract infection are all experiences that affect body odor. So if you are experiencing a particularly uncomfortable stench or you’ve noticed a drastic change, don’t hesitate to ask an expert to weigh in. But if your odor is nothing new, the bottom line is that body odor is a normal occurrence. Instead of trying to change it, understanding that this is a common experience is the way to go.