Body odours can indicate a serious underlying illness. Health experts reveal how

We might fail to sometimes mask our unpleasant body odour with our favourite deodorant but it becomes important to know about how certain body odours can be an indication of a serious underlying health condition. It might not be caused just via an over-sweating condition since the foods we eat or the hours we sleep might be some influencing factors.

We always blame poor hygiene for our body odor, which generally comprise of not bathing regularly, wearing dirty clothes and not using a fancy deodorant. Stinky armpits and smelly sweat are not usually due to poor hygiene but also due to some medical conditions which may be out of control causing body odour.

In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Sonali Kohli, Consultant Dermatologist and Venereologist at Sir HN Reliance Foundation Hospital, shared, “A very common but embarrassing problem for many could be Sweating and body odor. People who sweat more than usual may be diagnosed with the condition hyperhidrosis. Primary hyperhidrosis is a relatively rare condition that happens without a specific cause. Secondary hyperhidrosis most often is related to a medical problem, such as hot flashes with menopause, an infection, or an overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism). Stress, certain medications, and alcohol use can also cause you to sweat more than usual.”

She highlighted, “There are two types of sweat glands in your body eccrine glands and apocrine glands. Eccrine glands occur over most of your body and open directly onto the surface of the skin they are responsible to help regulate body temperature. When your body temperature rises, these glands release fluids as sweat which helps cool your body as they evaporate. Apocrine glands are found in areas where you have hair, such as your armpits and groin. Apocrine glands start to function at puberty that is why mostly in early childhood there is no body odor. These glands produce a viscous, protein-rich sweat that is initially odorless. However, as bacteria commensals present on healthy skin break down the abundance of proteins, they will produce odorant molecules in greater concentrations, causing body odor. Contrary to the common misconception sweat in itself is odourless.”

Dr Sonali Kohli explained, “Body odor occurs due to bacteria on a person’s skin breaking down protein molecules within sweat and producing odor as a result. There could be multiple underlying conditions leading to this primarily poor hygiene, disorders like diabetes and thyroid most commonly and also poor dietary choices. Certain foods can change the way you smell. Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower. The breakdown of garlic and onions in your body releases sulfur-like compounds that waft out through your pores. And people with a rare condition called trimethylaminuria develop a fishy odor after eating seafood. In diabetic ketoacidosis due to the presence of ketone bodies sweat can have a bad odour.”

She suggested, “There are multiple treatments and home remedies available to treat hyperhidrosis, recently gained momentum id of Botox treatment which can also be used to treat palmar hyperhidrosis. Acetic acid sprays are a popular home remedy but can be allergenic for some. Maintaining healthy hygiene and using PH balancing deodorants and soaps should be used. Avoid Sulphur rich foods in high quantity and always rule out any underlying systemic disorder after discussion with your practioner.”

Dr Sanket Jain, Consultant Chest Physician at Masina Hospital in Mumbai, revealed which body odours indicate what serious underlying illness:

  • Diabetes – If your blood sugar levels are too high, your breath may start to smell fruity
  • Metabolic Disorder – Trimethylaminuria, where the body is unable to breakdown trimethylamine, leads to its release from sweat and reproductive fluids, leading to a scent that has a fishy odour
  • Bromhidrosis – It occurs when your skin bacteria break down sweat and produce an abnormal smell that mimics Sulphur and onions
  • Hyperhidrosis – Leads to excessive sweating, which mixes with your body’s bacteria creating body odor. It can due to certain medications as well, like: Anti-depressant, Zinc Supplements, Iron Supplements
  • Kidney and liver dysfunction – Can lead to building up of toxins, creating odor, which resemble ammonia
  • Hormonal fluctuations – Hormonal fluctuations mainly during pregnancy, pre-menopausal or menopausal women can experience hot flashes and night sweat, increasing excessive sweating and odour.