10 Sources of Body Odor That Aren't Just Sweat


The Mind

People with Olfactory Reference Syndrome falsely believe that they have a bad body odor. Image Source White/Thinkstock
People with Olfactory Reference Syndrome falsely believe that they have a bad body odor. Image Source White/Thinkstock

While your nose picks up the chemicals that create aromas, it's your brain that actually tells you what you smell. That's one reason that patients who suffer from Alzheimer's disease and other neurological disorders sometimes experience a loss of their olfactory abilities [source: Doty].

What's even more surprising, though, is that mental illness can make you believe that you smell terrible, even if you don't. Olfactory Reference Syndrome is a psychiatric disorder characterized by a false belief that you have a bad body odor. Eighty-five percent of people with the disease report that they actually can smell their own imaginary stink [source: Phillips and Menard].

Author's Note: 10 Sources of Body Odor That Aren't Just Sweat

You may have heard this one already, but if not, there's the famous story about Samuel Johnson, the 18th-century British poet and essayist. On a summer day in London, he paused to sit down on a park bench because he was perspiring so heavily. A young woman next to him complained that he smelled. "No Madam," he replied. "You smell. I stink."

Related Articles


  • Bates. Karl Leif. "Hormonal Contraceptives Alter Scent Communication." July 28, 2010. (May 13, 2010). Duke University. http://today.duke.edu/2010/07/wrongsmell.html
  • Cohen, Brandon. "The Smelly Patient: Some Fresh Air from Your Peers." Medscape Family Medicine. April 2, 2012. (May 10, 2014) http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/760979
  • Doty, Richard L. "Smell and the Degenerating Brain." The Scientist. Oct. 1, 2013. (May 10, 2014) http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/37603/title/Smell-and-the-Degenerating-Brain/
  • Encyclopaedia Britannica. "Galerius." Britannica.com. (May 10, 2014)http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/223951/Galerius
  • Foxe, John and George Townsend. "The Acts and Monuments of John Foxe: A New and Complete Edition, Volume 1. " R. B. Seeley and W. Burnside. 1841. (May 10, 2014) http://bit.ly/QrK8VS
  • Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center. "Trimethylaminuria." Rarediseases.info.nih.gov. (May 10, 2014) http://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/gard/6447/trimethylaminuria/resources/8
  • National Library of Medicine. Genetics Home Reference. "Trimethylaminuria." Nih.gov. January 2013. (May 10, 2014) http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/trimethylaminuria
  • Havlicek, J., and Lenochova, P. "The effect of meat consumption on body odor attractiveness." Chemical Senses. October 2006. (May 10, 2014) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16891352
  • Huffington Post. "7 Surprising Body Odor Causes." Dec. 26, 2013. (May 10, 2014) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/26/surprising-body-odor-causes_n_4475756.html
  • Kosecki, Danielle and Gelman, Lauren. "Surprising Causes of Body Odor." Yahoo! Health. Sept. 12, 2012. (May 10, 2014) http://health.yahoo.net/articles/healthcare/photos/do-you-smell#2
  • Liddell, K. "Smell as a Diagnostic Marker." Post Graduate Medical Journal. March 1975. (May 10, 2014) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2496390/pdf/postmedj00279-0028.pdf
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. "Tests and Diagnosis." (May 10, 2014) http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sweating-and-body-odor/basics/tests-diagnosis/con-20014438
  • Medscape. "Bromhidrosis." Medscape.com. (May 10, 2014) http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1072342-overview
  • Newitz, Annalee. "Birth control pills make females smell "wrong" to males." Io9.com. July 29, 2010. (May 10, 2014) http://io9.com/5599793/birth-control-pills-make-females-smell-wrong-to-males
  • Olsson, M.J. et al. "The scent of disease: human body odor contains an early chemosensory cue of sickness." Psychological Science. March 2014. (May 10, 2014) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24452606
  • Phillips, K.A. and Menard, W. "Olfactory reference syndrome: demographic and clinical features of imagined body odor." General Hospital Psychiatry. July-August 2011. (May 10, 2014) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21762838
  • Science Daily. "Body odor changes following vaccination." April 2, 2014. (May 10, 2014) http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140402211946.htm
  • Science News. "Lemurs on Contraceptives Don't Smell Right." July 28 2010. (May 14, 2014). http://www.americanscientist.org/science/pub/lemurs-on-contraceptives-dont-smell-right
  • Sifferlin, Alexandra. "'Old-Person Smell' Really Exists, Scientists Say." Healthland.time.com. May 31, 2012. (May 10, 2014) http://healthland.time.com/2012/05/31/old-person-smell-really-exists-scientists-say/
  • Watson, Stephanie. "Can What You Eat Make You Sweat?" WebMD. (May 10, 2014) http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/features/what-you-eat


10 Conditions That Make People Sweat Too Much

10 Conditions That Make People Sweat Too Much

What if you're sweating and you're not exercising or experiencing hot weather? Learn what conditions can make you sweat too much at HowStuffWorks.