There are a lot of articles out there stating that eating red meat makes your body odor more pungent. But is there fact behind the claim? This article will outline how you can deodorize your body inside and out, and why its important to do it without the help of synthetic anti-perspirants.
Any Google search for "deodorizing diet" will lead you to a popular article called "Body odor can be eliminated by a change in diet." The author claims that eating red meat is "the number one cause of body odor." Although he cites no studies, his evidence in empirical:
“I've noticed that people who consume a large quantity of red meat on a regular basis tend to have much stronger body odor than those who avoid it,” he states. “[I]f you find a healthful vegetarian and put them side by side with a heavy meat eater in a sniff test, I'm confident your nose will lead you to the conclusion that the meat eater is the most offensive of the two.”
He also cites his own personal experience, suffering from “rather disgusting” (his own words) body odor, and that by eliminating red meats, fast food, and processed sugars, he is now as fresh as the morning dew (my own words). But what does science say about his claims?
In 2006, a group of researchers in the Czech Republic put the theory to the test. The collected the perspiration of males, meat-eating and non-meat-eaters. They then had women judge the odor of the perspiration by a number of factors. What did they find?
"Results of repeated measures analysis of variance showed that the odor of donors when on the nonmeat diet was judged as significantly more attractive, more pleasant, and less intense. This suggests that red meat consumption has a negative impact on perceived body odor hedonicity."
So, actual studies back up the author's claim. Eating red meat, according to this study, does make you smell more pungent. But what's the science behind it all?
The author claims that bacteria plays no role in body odor, and that it's all caused by diet. He says that bacteria causing odor is a ridiculous idea because we have bacteria all over our bodies. His theory is that all odor is caused by “toxins” being released. He doesn't state what these “toxins” are, however. Let's take a look inside our bodies to understand what's really going on in this odiferous puzzle.
Our bodies have two types of sweat glands: eccrine and apocrine. Eccrine glands are located all over the body. The sweat that eccrine glands produces is nothing much more than salt water. Apocrine glands, however, are different. Apocrine glands develop during puberty, and are located in the underarm and groin areas. The sweat that these glands produce contain fatty acids and proteins that are then eaten by bacteria. So even though we have bacteria all over our bodies, odor only comes from areas with apocrine glands. Eccrine glands don't give the bacteria enough "food" to grow.
So, let's look at how this relates to the red meat issue. When we eat red meat, our bodies have to break down more proteins and fats...this leads to more amino acids and fatty acids in the sweat. Thus, more proteins and fatty acids are excreted through the apocrine glands of a meat eater than those of a vegetarian. A the underarm of a meat-eater has more “food” for bacteria to eat and multiply with, so there's more body odor. It's all starting to make sense now.
But red-meat isn't the only factor that affects body odor. There are plenty of smelly vegans. The answer may lie in our genetics...
A new study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology (Feb. 2010) has found a variant in a particular gene (called the ABCC11 gene) that contributes largely to body odor.
Individuals who are homozygotic for a SNP (538G>A) were found to have significantly less of the characteristic axillary odorants than either individuals who were heterozygotic for this change or those who had the wild-type gene. The 538G>A SNP predominates in Asians who have nearly complete loss of typical body odor. ABCC11 is expressed and localized in apocrine sweat glands. These findings are remarkably similar to the ethnic distribution and expression patterns for apocrine apoD, a previously identified carrier of a characteristic axillary odorant.
People with this particular genotype have more of a particular amino acid called alipoprotein D in their sweat. This amino acid is the perfect food for corynebacteria, staphylococcus haemolyticus, staphylococcus epidermis, and other skin-dwelling bacteria. These bacteria break down this amino acid into smaller aromatic molecules that are highly detectable to the human nose. Each individual has a different expression of this gene, making some smellier than others, purely by genetics. So, if one of your parents had a strong expression of this gene, it's likely that you will too.
You've heard us say "we all have different body chemistry." Well, this is what we're talking about. Everyone has varying amounts and different types of amino acids present in our sweat. And then we have different bacteria that live on our skin that create different smells.
So, if you're one of those people who just has a hard time with body odor, and you know you're genetically pre-disposed to this problem (known medically as bromhidrosis) what are you to do?
Manage the sweat
The more you sweat, the more amino acids become present on your skin. That means more food for odor-causing bacteria. So, the first key to being smell-free is to manage the sweat.
Of course, the conventional approach to this is to use an anti-perspirant agent. Unfortunately, there are serious side effects to this. (For more details on this, read my article here.) So, we want to use completely natural means that have no deleterious health effects.
Undershirts are a great way to control sweat. Choose a natural fiber like cotton or bamboo to help wick sweat away from the body and evaporate it. Some fibers (like bamboo) are even antimicrobial, so if bacteria gets on the undershirt, it won't grow and thrive there. If you can't find anything fancy, just a plain white cotton t-shirt under your regular shirt will work wonders.
Natural powders like clay, baking soda, corn starch, and arrowroot powder help absorb moisture and keep you dry. Baking soda is especially effective because it raises the pH of the underarm, and bacteria have a hard time thriving in alkaline conditions. Straight baking soda can be irritating to skin, so we recommend mixing it with another powder (like we do in some of our Pit Putty formulas). If you're sweating more heavily, and saturate the powder with your sweat, simply reapply (before you get too moist and the bacteria start growing).
Caffeine is a stimulant that temporarily speeds up our metabolism and causes us to sweat more. If you have a sweating or odor problem, wean yourself off the java for a marked improvement.
Any kind of anxiety causes our sympathetic nervous system (which includes our sweat glands) to go in to hyperdrive. We deal with numerous stressors every day, whether it's getting stuck in traffic, or a simple conversation with a new acquaintance. You may not even feel "stressed," but these physical responses of the sympathetic nervous system can happen quite easily. We all handle stress to a varying degree. Meditation, yoga, or any kind of contemplative activity (enjoying a nature walk, etc.) can put you in touch with your inner calm and help you keep centered throughout the day and manage these stressor responses.
The more you are hydrated, the less concentrated the amino acids in your sweat will be, giving less food to the bacteria. Drink at least 64 oz of fresh water every day to stay optimally hydrated.
Manage the bacteria
These bacteria that live on your skin can sometimes be stubborn. They mutate very easily and adapt to new environments easily. The worst thing you can do is to try to kill them with "antibacterial" soaps with agents like triclosan. The triclosan will kill 99% of the bacteria, but leave 1% that then grows and multiplies, and is resistant to many more things. (This is what commonly happens in schools and hospitals where super-strong staph infections run rampant while people are using hand sanitizers.) So, number one, stop using those anti-bacterial agents!
But what CAN you do?
Wash it away
The best way to get rid of bacteria is to wash with good old soap and water. Wash each 'pit for at least 30 seconds with warm water and copius amounts of soap. Using something with deodorizing essential oils like lavender, rosemary, or eucalyptus will also help give you a fresh start before you apply the deodorant.
Alcohol (isopropyl or ethanol) is a wonderful tool against bacteria. It is the only thing that kills bacteria and doesn't create mutated super strains. Rubbing alcohol on your underarms first thing in the morning, before you apply your deodorant, will work wonders at increasing the power of your natural deodorant and keeping that bacteria at bay. The less bacteria you start with, the less you'll have at the end of the day--and that's good news for odor.
Bacteria-fighting essential oils
Using a deodorant with essential oils that keep bacteria at bay is an important part. These essential oils don't kill bacteria, but slow their growth. Tea Tree, Clove, Rosemary, Lemongrass, Geranium, and Lavender are particularly effective against certain strains. It's all about matching the right essential oil to the particular bacteria on your skin.
Rule Out Medical Causes
Keep in mind that there are medical conditions that can cause body odor, some of which can be serious. If you can't get yours under control, you may want to consult your doctor, especially if there are other symptoms present.
Erythrasma is an infection and overgrowth of a bacteria called corynebacterium minutissimum. Skin will appear irritated with brown to red patches and may be wrinkled or scaley in appearance. This overgrowth happens in moist areas (underarms, in skin folds, feet, thighs, etc). It can also be paired with a fungal infection. The best preventative measure is to keep your skin dry with the methods described above. If you think you have an infection, you may want to consult a dermatologist, who will treat the infection with anti-fungal creams or antibiotics, depending on the organisms present in the deodorant. Erythrasma is common in people with diabetes.
Phenylketonuria is a genetic disorder whereby the body cannot metabolize a particular amino acid called phenylalanine. Because this amino acid can accumulate in the body be excreted through the skin, a musty odor can be present on the skin, hair, sweat, and urine.
Trimethylaminuria also known as "fish odor syndrome" is a rare metabolic disorder, whereby the body cannot metabolize an amino acid called thrimethylamine. The buildup of this amio acid in the body can create a strong fish odor in the sweat, urine, and breath. While the fish smell is most common, smells can differ from person to person. Liver damage from Hepatitis C can also cause a fishy body odor.
Renal Failure or Kidney Failure When the kidneys or liver stop working, amino acids aren't digested properly and can be excreted in the swea, resulting in bodily odors.
Medications some medications can interfere with amino acid metabolism, the digestive system, and sweat production thus causing body odor.
It's an ongoing fight to ward off bacteria and odor using natural means. But getting clean and staying dry are the keys to success. Our extensive product line of deodorants gives you the tools you need in your battle against odors AND synthetic anti-perspirants. Need help choosing? Visit our Deodorant Choice Help Center.