We’ve all been trapped in a room with someone who might be a little stinky. You may have even noticed unpleasant odors emanating from your underarms from time to time.
But other than being a bit of an inconvenience or turn off, does body odor reveal more about your overall health?
It’s quite possible that it does.
Your Body Odor Says a Lot about You
For many, body odor is a reflection of the microbial population residing in the armpit. And, the bacteria living on your skin’s surface and inside your body might not only reflect genetics but also what you eat, your unique biochemistry, and your emotional state.
If you think about it, humans didn’t always have perfumes, deodorants, scented soaps, and fabric softeners to make them desirable. So, natural scents and musk such as pheromones played a substantial role in how our ancestors picked mates.
Pheromones are subtle scents humans give off to attract others and are virtually unidentifiable. But, they can trigger emotional reactions in people, making them happy or standoffish.
In the past few years, studies have shown that volatile compounds in underarm sweat can reveal moods such as fear or anger, as well as disgust and happiness.
And, other research shows that these same compounds can suggest illnesses from infections to cancer.
Body Odor Can Indicate a Serious Illness
A leading researcher on body odor says his preliminary research has identified distinct scents from women with ovarian cancer and diabetes. The research has shown that certain conditions lead to specific organic compounds, which are emitted in blood plasma and cause odors. But, they are nearly undetectable by the human nose.
Trained medical detection dogs, on the other hand, seem to be able to sniff out the cancerous compounds with high accuracy. In one study, trained dogs were able to select cancerous samples with more than 90% accuracy!
Aside from a serious illness, your diet could play a role in body odor, too. There is research indicating that men who avoided meat for two weeks smelled more pleasant than when they reintroduced it into their diet. But, it’s unknown whether it implies a greater health issue.
For the most part, more work needs to be done on the role of body odor in human health, but it is an area of study that’s been growing rapidly.
Kadohisa, M., “Effects of odor on emotion, with implications,” Frontiers in System Neuroscience, October 10, 2013; 7: 66. DOI: 10.3389/fnsys.2013.00066.
Horvath, G., et al., “Cancer odor in the blood of ovarian cancer patients: a retrospective study of detection by dogs during treatment, 3 and 6 months afterward,” BMC Cancer, August 26, 2013; 13: 396. DOI: 10.1186/1471-2407-13-396.
Leung, W., “Decoding body odour,” The Globe and Mail, August 11, 2017; https://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/health/what-your-body-odour-could-reveal-about-your-health-andmood/article35943923/, last accessed August 18, 2017.
Chen, D., and Haviland-Jones, J., “Rapid mood change and human odors,” Physiology & Behavior, 68(1999): 241–250; http://www.rci.rutgers.edu/~baljones/Rapid%20Mood%20Change%20and%20Human%20Odors.pdf, last accessed August 18, 2017.