Have you been in close contact and you find that you are being choked by the foul smell that is coming from this person? Now you will probably understand what body odour (BO for short) is. It is a foul smell, from a human body often due to poor personal hygiene. Well, that is only half the truth. Every one of us has some body odour, only a few people have learnt how to manage the situation. Hence they do not emit this foul smell. Dogs have been used to trail the scent of suspected criminals. Being active in the sun or in a hot humid environment will make people sweat more. Body odour tends to start after puberty when the body starts producing the sex hormones. Note too that there is a gender note to sweat. Male sweat smells more than female sweat.
Normal human response to heat is to cool down. The body’s heat regulatory mechanism will cause the person to sweat. The evaporation of this sweat will cool the person. The sweat glands in the body are responsible for the production of sweat. There are two types of sweat glands in the body. The eccrine sweat glands which are all over the body secrete sweat that consists of water and electrolytes (salt); and the apocrine sweat glands found in the underarms, the groin, scalp, around the nipples and underneath the breast, secrete sweat consisting of proteins, lipids and steroids usually in spurts. When bacteria which are normally present on the skin, acts on the products of the apocrine glands breaks them down to acid giving off a foul smelling gas.
Hairs in the underarms and the groin cause the bacteria to thrive more, since evaporation is slow make the environment conducive for the bacteria to flourish. This means more hair in the region the more the smell. Consequently, poor washing of these areas will mean body odour! This is especially so for plus size people who may not be able to reach in between the folds.
Other causes of BO are diet, stressful situation and certain medical conditions. Hot spicy foods are known to make people sweat. When curries or food rich in onion, garlic are processed by the body, there is the release of sulphur containing gases expelled in breath and sweat. Caffeinated drinks and alcohol taken in large volume also have this kind of effect.
Any disease of the liver or kidney that causes their function to fail will result in an accumulation of the toxins it excretes. Alcohol is processed as a toxin by the liver. When large volumes are taken, or if the liver is diseased and unable to cope, the toxin is released in the breath and sweat. This can be toned down if the drinker learns to drink water or other non-alcoholic drinks in between. When other toxins accumulate in the gut and the blood because the kidney and or the liver are unable to perform its excretory function, the person begins to give bleach like smell.
Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) is a medical emergency in a diabetic, when there is insufficient insulin in the body and the cells are not getting glucose, its normal source of energy, the body will move to an alternate source of energy, fat. The breakdown of fats for energy results in high levels of blood acid known as ketones. The body gives off a sweet, fruity smell in the presence of high ketones. This person must see a physician promptly it is a life threatening condition.
Others are rare genetic condition like phenylketonuria, which is an inborn error of metabolism and trimethylaminuria in which the absence of an enzyme prevents the person from processing trimethylamine which gives fish that fishy smell. Consequently, this person smells of fish. The same thing happens with soy and certain vegetables.
Studies have shown that when under stress, people tend to sweat much more than they will normally do. This is because the apocrine sweat glands are sensitive to adrenalin, the flight fear or fight (FFF) hormone. Remember when you missed the venue of an interview? Almost missed a flight, you get the drift now. How did you feel? Many people will be drenched in sweat especially in the underarms, the palms and forehead. Where the stress goes on for too long, the foul smell will begin to come up. So prolong stress can cause BO.
What to do, either as prevention or managing an already present situation?
• Regular baths; especially in the tropics where it is hot and humid. I will recommend twice daily shower with lukewarm water. Too frequent bathes is not good as it will wash off the protective layer of oil on the skin. Remember to wash all the folds and crevices.
• Maintain a good oral and dental hygiene. This means brush your teeth in the correct manner at least twice in a day, the second one been the last thing at night do not forget the back of the tongue. Remember to floss too. This action will rid the mouth of food particles, which if left in the mouth overnight would be fermented by the bacteria already present in the mouth. That is why the mouth tastes a bit sour after sleeping for a while.
• Put on clothes made from natural material, like cotton, wool or silk. These materials are absorbent, will absorb any sweat, thus keeping the wearer dry. It is also advisable to wear under clothes singlet and t shirts that will absorb the sweat.
• Endeavor to change your clothes daily, if you must wear the same clothes the next day, first air dry them overnight or spread in early morning dew to remove the smell.
• Frequent change of bra, for obvious reasons. When moisture is retained for too long underneath the breast it will smell. Expose the area to air when and where possible.
• Avoid eating very hot food.
• Avoid very spicy food rich in curry, garlic and onions.
• Regular shaving of the hairs in the underarms and pubis.
• Use of deodorants and anti-perspirants; the deodorants are scents that will mask the smell from the underarms, while the anti perspirants work to block the sweat pores, so the person does not sweat or at least minimize sweating. These have been associated with cancers of the breast and the prostate. If you must use an anti perspirant, look for one with clinical strength Aluminum Chloride.
• Talcum powder has been use because of its drying effect for centuries. Recent findings however have associated the use of talcum powder with certain cancers.
• Clean the underarms with either white vinegar or apple cider vinegar (ACV). This will keep the area sweat free and smelling fresh all day. The acidic nature of vinegar prevents the growth of bacteria flora. Do not use ACV when there is a cut on the surface.
• Clean the underarms with lime or lemon cut in cross section, this works like vinegar. Giving an all-day freshness.
• Baking soda may also be used either mixed with water and applied to the armpit and washed after a few minutes, or mixed with lime or lemon and applied locally.
• Hydrogen peroxide (3% solution), mix 5mls with 250mls of water, use the solution to wash the underarms.
• Care of the feet. For its surface area, the feet are loaded with sweat glands. When the moisture from the sweat is retained in the feet all day couple with the warmth when it is in covered shoes or canvas for a long time, allow bacteria and fungus to flourish. This is made worse if the person has to use those same shoes the next day. Where possible, allow your shoes 24 hours to dry before using it again. Overnight is too short. The use of cotton or silk socks will help to absorb moisture. It is needless to say the socks should be washed regularly. Avoid stuffing your socks into your shoes for obvious reasons. When possibly, walk barefooted to air your feet occasionally.
Are there other causes or management measures you know, feel free to let us know.