Your body odor can tell you a lot about your health. It can tell you if your personal hygiene is a bit off, if you’re ingesting something you shouldn’t — and can even be a marker for certain diseases. No need to panic, however. The best thing to do is to be informed, and if you have a smell that is an indicator for something iffy, get yourself to the doctor. Here are some of the most common body odors and what they could mean about your health.
Consistent bad breath
Nobody wants halitosis. It’s embarrassing and people spend lots of time worrying about it. They buy gum, mints, breath spray and more to combat it. But if you have consistently bad breath, it could be a sign of something more than just a bad breakfast choice. Research says that in 90 percent of cases of people who have consistently bad breath, the cause comes from the oral cavity. This can be because of bacterial buildup on the tongue that cuts down on the organic things found there that combat foul odor. Other times, actual tooth decay can cause a bad smell, and when people have poor oral hygiene or a propensity for it, they develop gingivitis and periodontitis.
To combat halitosis, brush and floss regularly, avoid tobacco products and see a dentist twice per year for cleanings and to check the health of your gums. If none of that helps, the smell might be coming from sinus issues, or even from gastrointestinal problems. Best to see your doctor.
If your breath is sweet, you could have a different problem altogether. Fruity-smelling breath can be a sign of diabetic ketoacidosis, a condition that occurs when the body is unable to break down glucose as fuel because of a lack of insulin. The body uses fat as fuel instead, which releases ketones into the bloodstream. High levels of ketones are dangerous and life-threatening. Have your doctor check your sugar and insulin levels to make sure you’re not diabetic.
It’s worth noting that another sign of diabetes is sweet-smelling sweat. Some people report a maple syrupy smell because there is actually sugar that builds up on the skin. If your breath is sweet and kind of musty, it’s a bad sign that you could have liver problems. Doctors are now using breath analysis to try to detect liver problems. If you have this symptom, schedule a liver test with your doctor to make sure you’re OK.
Sour or rancid sweat
Medical News Today says that "sweat itself is virtually odorless to humans; it is the rapid multiplication of bacteria in the presence of sweat and what they do (break sweat down into acids) that eventually causes the unpleasant smell." Our eccrine glands are all over our bodies. They are the glands that regulate our body temperature — when we’re hot, they break out in clear sweat that cools us down. Our apocrine glands are found in our armpits, genital areas, ears and breasts. They are the body odor culprits, because they don’t produce the high-salt sweat that the eccrine glands do. The apocrine glands produce fluid that contains proteins and other organic compounds. So, more smell. That could be where our pheromones come from, and where our extra stinkyness comes from.
If your body odor is worse than usual, you could be due for a change in your diet, or your hormones might have something to do with it. Drink plenty of water! See your doctor if you start having night sweats for no reason (sign of infection or disease), start sweating way more than normal with no clear reason (sign of hyperthyroidism) or if you smell bleachy. That could mean you have a liver or kidney problem.
Stinky feet can be super embarrassing — especially if you have to take your shoes off at someone’s house, at the doctor, or even if you just want to kick your shoes off to watch TV. Our feet have around 250,000 sweat glands each. We know that our eccrine sweat glands produce odorless sweat, so the stink on our feet comes from a combination of that neutral sweat and the bacteria on our feet. That bacteria multiplies when we close our feet into socks and shoes. Not wearing the same shoes every day, wearing fresh socks and keeping your feet clean and dry can help. However, fungal infections can keep your feet smelling pretty bad, so if you have persistent stink, get thee to a foot doctor for treatment.
Foul urine odor
Urine usually has no scent, and when it does, it’s usually a bit ammonia-like. If it has a stronger smell, the top culprit is dehydration. Drink lots of water and it will clear right up. However, if your urine smells even more like ammonia than usual, or it smells sort of sickly sweet, you could be getting a UTI. This will be accompanied by discomfort when you urinate, so get to a doctor right away to get an antibiotic. And, just like with your sweat or your breath, if your urine smells fruity, get your blood levels checked for diabetes.
Unusually foul-smelling flatulence
Everybody has flatulence. It’s a normal part of digestion. In fact, most people pass gas 10 to 20 times every day. They never smell great, but if they’re particularly foul, you could be facing a digestive absorption issue, lactose intolerance or a bacteria or virus in your gut. Gas becomes trapped in your body for a number of reasons — because you’ve swallowed too much air by eating too fast, because unabsorbed food is just hanging out in your colon, because you’re constipated or because there have been changes in the delicate balance of bacteria in your digestive tract. It’s worth visiting a doctor if your smells are making you concerned.
Bad odor "down there"
Having some amount of discharge is normal, but when it’s accompanied by a smell, it’s time to go to the doctor. Yeast infections, STIs and infections like bacterial vaginosis can cause smells "down there" and all require a doctor for treatment. However, if one of those conditions isn’t your problem, your diet or personal habits could have an impact on your smell. Your hormones, gym routine, clothes and more can cause odor. The most important thing you can do is not douche. The vagina has a delicate balance of bacteria and chemicals just make it worse in the long run. Try all-cotton underpants, bathing regularly (but not excessively) and drinking lots of water.
If someone smells like fish all the time, it’s likely they have fish odor syndrome, or trimethylaminuria. This is a genetic condition that makes people smell like rotting fish. it doesn’t impact a lot of people, but the people who have it suffer psychological and social problems, in addition to the smell that emanates from their bodies and mouths.
It can be treated with certain acidic lotions and soaps to try to neutralize the smell. In most cases, it’s present from birth, but can sometimes develop as a result of the dormant gene becoming active in conjunction with the treatment of certain diseases. Again, it’s very rare, but it causes devastating psychological damage on sufferers and doctors are committed to helping people cope both through active treatment and counseling.
Some body odor is normal
We can’t smell like fresh flowers or soap all the time. Even healthy bodies can smell a little funky sometimes. Our natural pheromones are part of what makes us who we are. However, if you have body odors that concern you, it’s a good idea to see a doctor. There’s a fine line between your natural "stink" and a health problem that is displayed with a particular odor.