Chronic infection in nose or throat, rotten teeth or bronchiectasis used to be thought the chief cause of malodorous breath: doctors do not seem to regard offensive sweating as a medical condition at all. Both impressions were probably misguided, even when chronic infection was much more common than it is now.
Centuries ago, naturally vegetarian natives of the new European colonies were able to scent a meat-eating white man a hundred yards away and track him in the dark. Newly-converted non-smokers are often horrified to rediscover the rank odour of stale tobacco on another’s breath, an offence of which they were oblivious when still themselves addicted. Most doctors eat handsomely and few are vegetarians; only those who rid themselves of dietary odour can begin to be aware of it in their patients.
The ultimate cause of persistent body odour is the burden of offensive chemicals your body is forced to carry, and tries very hard to get rid of. Some of these arise from environmental pollution, some from medication, others from metabolism of meat products eaten to excess. A few, such as trimethylamine, build up because you cannot break them down for disposal. These make their way out of your body as best they can. Any that will vaporize, like ammonia and solvents, pass out through your lungs; this probably accounts for the greater part of what you successfully excrete. Rather little dissolves in your sweat since most that could go that way is dealt with by your kidneys.
Nearly all organic chemicals such as pesticides dissolve readily in fatty material, which is why they mount up in your body fat and cannot easily get through your kidneys. These fat stores are laid down deep inside you and there the pollutants would stay; but a small amount spills over from these deep stores into the sebaceous material produced to lubricate your skin and hair. This may cause acne, or may simply be secreted with the sebum and dry onto your skin. It does not easily rinse off without soap, which you cannot use often without destroying your skin’s protective sebaceous film. Even when you do get rid of it there is plenty more stored up inside to take its place. So if stored pollutants are your problem a persistent chemical odour is practically inevitable, worst in the hairy parts of your body but especially your armpits. Sometimes the problem is entirely external and easily solved. A bed-wetting child who does not wash properly before he gets dressed, or carries on wearing underwear stained with urine, is bound to smell at school.
Sometimes a whole family smells of stale tobacco because one of them smokes heavily. The embarrassment when they discover deters their friends from telling them, in case they turn hostile; the ’friends’ are therefore few. Offensive vaginal discharge may result from infection, particularly with germs that thrive best in the absence of air. This smell is very conspicuous and you really do need a friend to tell you about it because you cannot detect it for yourself.
What can I do?
Advice to maintain and maximise health
1. If your best friend summons up the courage to say that you have B.O., don’t be offended or incredulous: be grateful.
2. If you have catarrh, work on getting rid of that.
3. If you smoke, give up. Nicotine chewing gum will solve your immediate odour problem, but not your addiction.
4. If your teeth are in poor shape, get them attended to.
7. Some unfortunate individuals possess a strikingly offensive smell whatever they do. Try avoiding foods rich in choline, which is metabolized to trimethylamine — a strong-smelling substance you may not be able to break down further. These include especially fish, eggs, liver and legumes (pea and bean family). Your body odour will vanish within a week if trimethylamine accumulation is your problem.
8. Supplement your diet for cleansing. Zinc, Magnesium, Para-aminobenzoic acid, and Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine) are sometimes dramatically effective at relieving odour, either alone or in combination. Garlic odour may offend you but garlic oil can be used intermittently to help you get rid of worse offenders more quickly.
9. Do not use antiperspirant cosmetics, which merely frustrate your bodies legitimate business.
10. If you have acne and are treating it with a cream or lotion containing Benzoyl Peroxide, this may be the cause of your odour. If so your odour will vanish very quickly when you stop using it.
11. Shower frequently, first hot to encourage perspiration (a sauna once or twice a week is even better, if available) and then cold to close your skin pores. Use soap very seldom, substituting a little cold cream if necessary. Try to air your body naked for ten minutes each day, invigorating your skin beforehand with a shower or a brisk rub with a dry towel or loofa. If you begin to shiver, shower again or dress quickly.
12. Roll-on deodorants can be irritant; dab your armpits instead with a cotton wool ball dampened with cider vinegar or sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) solution. Scent your fresh underwear in advance by keeping sachets of pleasant herbs amongst them in the drawer.
13. Get candid progress reports from that best friend, but you’ll know you’re there when you can easily detect odour from other people. Your experience may give you a turn as a tactful ‘best friend’ to one or two of them!