Three experts—a medical doctor, naturopath and organic chemist—dish on body odor: its root causes and how to treat it naturally.
Medical doctor: Robert T. Brodell, MD, professor of internal medicine, Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine, Rootstown, Ohio
Most patients with body odor have a problem with bacterial overgrowth on their skin. These bacteria produce odor by breaking down the skin's sebum (oil). People who don't bathe regularly are particularly at risk because folds of skin in the groin and armpits are the moist, warm, favored places for bacterial growth. Wear loose cotton clothing that breathes well, and light-colored clothing to reflect light and heat.
Attempting to cover up odor with perfumes doesn't work because perfumes don't kill the odor-causing bacteria. Even worse, adding perfumes to the odor often forms a perfumed-body-odor scent—a combination that will never make it to the fragrance counter.
Eating large amounts of foods such as asparagus and garlic can also lead to body odor. Avoid such foods for 48 hours to test whether they are the culprits.
One other trick: If you bathe daily and still find odor a problem, use deodorant soap or an antiperspirant-free deodorant. If you still notice odor, it may be that the odor is locked in your clothing from a previous wear. Every time you sweat, the wet clothing releases the odor even though the bacteria are no longer present.
Naturopathic doctor: Cynthia Bye, ND, Journey to Wellness, Vancouver, Wash.
Remember that the skin is the body's largest detoxification organ. Assuming normal hygiene, one thing I investigate is a person's toxic load. Body odor generally results from internal toxins forming faster than they are eliminated. You may need to reduce the toxic load in the body with an individualized detox program.
Yeast infections are another cause.
I see these in people with high sugar diets and antibiotic use. The antibiotics kill the good bacteria in and on the body, allowing bad bacteria and yeast to grow. And sugar feeds yeast and adds to body fat. If there is enough body fat, rolls of skin on skin create moist areas where yeast can grow. If you have yeast on the skin, use a topical antiyeast formula. Use high-dose probiotics—in alginate capsules to survive stomach acid—to help with an imbalance of colon bacteria and yeast in the gut.
Diet can also play a role in body odor. If you are eating an unhealthy diet, you increase the toxic load to all organs. Natural deodorants are an option until you effectively treat the cause of the body odor.
Organic chemist: George Preti, PhD, Monell Chemical Senses Center, Philadelphia
Sticking your nose in your underarm is not an indicator of whether you're really producing an odor or have a problem. Ask someone you trust if they can smell you from a reasonable social distance—1 or 2 feet away. If the answer to the question is yes, start by adopting a more rigorous hygiene routine: Shower daily, change your clothes consistently, and wash clothes thoroughly.
Depending on where on the body you're talking about, you'll have different bacteria. That's why different parts of the body smell different. The odor is generally regulated by the amount of moisture and oxygen found on that portion of the body. Most body odor is treatable by bathing on a consistent basis.
In rare cases, though, a genetic disorder, known as trimethylaminuria, may be the cause. People with this condition produce a sporadic "garbagelike" odor after consuming choline-rich foods—eggs, certain legumes, saltwater fish, and organ meats, for example. If you think you have trimethylaminuria, try eliminating choline-rich foods, and talk with your physician.