How does diet affect body odor?

Is there a non-stinky diet?

Curry is a pungent food, but whether it causes pungent people remains unproven scientifically.
Curry is a pungent food, but whether it causes pungent people remains unproven scientifically.
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There is some disagreement over what causes body odor in some proponents of natural lifestyles. In these quarters, it is the impurities and toxins the body releases through sweat that stink us up, not the bacteria eating the secretions in said sweat [source: Adams]. Others have gotten more specific, citing ama (undigested food; part of the ayurvedic tradition) as the culprit behind body odor. Under the purview of ayurveda, ama finds its way into the bloodstream, acting as a toxin in the body before it's excreted through the sweat glands [source: McIntyre]. The last page covered the topic from the vantage point of accepted medical science. However, it's about here that medicine's research into the topic ends; there is a dearth of studies on exactly what foods might cause the most pungent body odor.

While science has bowed out at this point, there is some room for conventional wisdom. If native florae on the skin like to chow down on fats and proteins and, as a result, produce malodorous byproducts like androstenes (steroid compounds) and isovaleric acid, then cutting down on foods heavy in these nutrients should reduce body odor. It's kind of like odor reduction through bacterial starvation. This could explain why the meat-eating participants in the Czech experiment had a less preferable body odor than their vegetarian counterparts. It's important to point out, however, that the experiment provided a correlation between meat and the perception of body odor, not a causal link.

Other foods that are perennially cited as worth avoiding to reduce body odor have their own strong scents. Curries, onions and garlic all fall into this category. The reasoning is that the enzymes that give these foods their strong smell may escape full digestion and be excreted intact from the eater's pores, creating body odor. This remains unproven through scientific inquiry, however.

Food can also lead to body odor in a more roundabout way. Spicy food tends to make its eater sweat from both the apocrine and eccrine glands. More sweat can equal more body odor; hence, cutting spicy foods from your diet can lead to a reduction in body odor [source: Mayo Clinic].

Ultimately, if you subscribe to Western science, simply bathing regularly and using antiperspirant or deodorant is the best way to reduce body odor. If it persists, seeing a physician might be a good next step.

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  • Baker, Donald J., M.D. and Heymann, Warren R., M.D. "Eccrine and apocrine glands." American Academy of Dermatology.
  • Brody, Jane E. "Paying a price for loving red meat." New York Times. April 27, 2009.
  • Dermaxime. "Sweat glands." Accessed Sept. 17, 2009.
  • Elsner, Peter. "Antimicrobials and the skin; physiological and pathological flora."
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  • Havlicek, J and Lenochova, P. "The effect of meat consumption on body odor attractiveness." Chemical Senses. October 2006.
  • McIntyre, Anne. "Herbal treatment of children: Western and Ayurvedic perspectives." Elsevier Health Sciences. 2005.
  • The Mayo Clinic. "Sweating and body odor; lifestyle and home remedies." Dec. 9, 2008.