It’s human nature to sweat, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s also a fact that, occasionally, everyone has a varying degree of body odor in response to our perspiration. But when your body odor persists to the extent it grosses you out, it could be an indication of underlying bodily issues, choices, or stages in life. So, don’t take lightly that embarrassing stink that’s bothering everyone around you. And instead of masking your body’s natural scent with deodorants and antiperspirants, it’s wise to understand what your body odor is trying to say about your health.
Causes of Body Odor
Contrary to what many people believe, sweat itself is odorless. However, it can indirectly contribute to body odor. According to Dr. Christopher Dietz, DO, Area Medical Director of MedExpress, a system of urgent care centers, “one type of sweat that our bodies produce is rich in fat. Bacteria that is naturally found on our skin breaks down this fat-rich sweat and produces the range of smells we associate with body odor.”
Sometimes, the body odor is a result of certain substances being exuded from the pores. However, this condition tends to be associated with issues like diet or certain medical conditions.
Williams Hanson, M.D., professor of anesthesiology and critical care at the University of Pennsylvania Health System in Philadelphia, asserts that “diseases change the balance of chemicals in the body.” These chemicals are responsible for triggering small changes in the scent of breath, urine, and sweat.
“Generally, our sense of smell isn’t sensitive enough to pick all these up,” Dr. Hanson adds. Luckily, machines and dogs can. Dogs have a strong sense of smell and can pick up changes in a person’s scent that indicate certain diseases like cancer.
With that in mind, here are six things that your body odor says about your health.
There are several types of vaginal infections, such as bacterial vaginosis or vaginal parasite infection, that may cause a sudden change in body odor in the affected area. If you experience vaginal discharge with a pasty, yeasty smell, like that of bread dough, you might be having a vaginal yeast infection. This type of infection is caused by an overgrowth of the fungus candida. Candida, a naturally occurring bacteria in the vagina is kept in check by another bacteria known as lactobacillus. When this balance is interrupted by factors like diabetes, pregnancy, antibiotics, or a compromised immune system, a yeast infection can occur. Yeast infection, which thrives in warm, moist environments can also be a result of wearing tight, damp clothing. However, not all vaginal discharges indicate yeast infection, and experts recommend seeing your doctor will help you ascertain whether you have trichomoniasis, bacterial vaginosis, or any other health condition.
You May Have Diabetes
When your body fails to make enough insulin or can’t effectively use what it makes, it can lead to diabetes mellitus. The high blood sugar levels in the body can result in a complication known as diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). If left unchecked, ketones can build up to dangerous levels, which are excreted in the urine and blood. It’s also what causes people with diabetes to have fruity breath. So, if your breath suddenly has a fruity odor, you should see your doctor immediately as diabetic ketoacidosis is a medical emergency.
Certain medications, such as SSRI antidepressants, hormonal medications, heart-based drugs, and analgesic pain medications, are known to have excessive sweating as one of their side effects. If you just started taking medication and noticed a change in your body odor, it could be the drugs.
When you remove your shoes, does the air fill with a bad smell? You may be suffering from athlete’s foot. This fungal infection may cause itchiness in your feet, and they may become red. As we noted earlier, fungus thrives in warm, moist environments, and your socks and shoes can be a good host. To remedy this, you need to practice healthy foot hygiene habits. You can also use a deodorizing foot powder or you can minimize the sweating using a regular underarm spray antiperspirant. Activated charcoal is also said to combat the smell in your shoes.
One 2017 research shows that people, especially women, can smell different amid a hormonal fluctuation, such as menstrual cycle and menopause. For example, when your estrogen levels drop during menopause, the body often mistakes this as a sign that it’s overheating, leading to excessive sweating, which can result in body odor. Pregnant women also report an increase in levels of sweatiness, which is attributed to the response to the massive hormonal fluctuations due to conception and fetus development. At other times, the hormonal changes may cause your body and/or vaginal odor to change. The odor may not necessarily be unpleasant, just a bit different from what you’re used to.
You May Have Grave’s Disease
Grave’s disease is a thyroid condition known to cause excessive sweating. And the more you sweat, the more you’re likely to smell more. Grave’s disease occurs due to an overactive thyroid, where the thyroid goes into overdrive as it reacts to a malfunction in your immune system. As you may be aware, thyroids regulate your metabolism. If it malfunctions, it can cause poor sleep, rapid heartbeat, and, you guessed it, heavy sweating. This condition is more common at night and is associated with serious infections in your bones or heart valves.
It’s normal to have body odor as our bodies excrete waste in the form of sweat or urine. However, a sudden change in your body odor may indicate a serious underlying health issue. When the odor is accompanied by certain symptoms, you should be concerned and book an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.
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