The unexpected root causes of body odor
One of the things that I love most about root cause medicine is that the symptoms on the outside body are 9.9 times out of 10 reflective of something going on much deeper in the body. Take body odor, for example, it’s a reasonably common issue that affects most people at some point in their lives (and has been a massive part of my journey because I started my entire Agent journey with a deo), but did you know that microbes, bacteria, and toxins are often the drivers behind the smell you’re experiencing? It goes a lot deeper than we are taught.
If things aren’t smelling good on the outside of your body, you need to take a moment to think about what might be going on on the inside of your body because the two are directly connected. Dr. Mercola has always said that “your body doesn’t naturally stink, the bacteria living in your body only reacts with what you feed them’ so, if things aren’t smelling good, it means that your body isn’t just excreting the excess water, minerals and healthy metabolic waste products that it is intended to (because if it did, you would very rarely smell or experience body odor - no matter how hot the country, or how much exercise you’re doing). Instead, if things are a bit smelly, it’s most likely that your body is overloaded with excess toxins and is trying to get rid of them through excretion. This, combined with commensal bacteria on the skin from our skin microbiome (which can sometimes overgrow too) can actually exacerbate the situation.
I see many people in today’s world using toxic and heavily perfumed deodorants daily to cover up their body odor and these are full of toxins that are going directly into the very sensitive armpit area. It’s been my personal mission to not only help people battle their sweat in a natural way but to also understand where its coming from in case there are any deeper root causes.
The thing that is most misunderstood is that the oily fluid the apocrine glands secrete (made up of proteins, lipids, and steroids that today we know of as ‘sweat’) is actually COMPLETELY ODORLESS! It is only when this oily fluid meets the skin microbiota that the sweat gets broken down to more ‘malodorous byproducts’ by the bacteria on the skin. Commensals, or commensal bacteria, are the types of microbes that live on the skin surface or at the mucosa level and do this without harming human health (which means they are normal and we don’t need to eradicate them). Some of the more common skin bacteria involved in this process include the Staphylococcus, Corynebacterium and Cutibacterium types.
How these actually create such a smell is still being researched, but it is thought that it is something to do with the production of volatile organic compounds when the sweat meets the bacteria on the skin. What I think is crazy is that these VOCs are even thought to have their own smell! The VOC produced, called 3M2H is thought to have a ‘goat-like odor’. The HMHA VOC is thought to smell more like cumin. Both of these smells are thought to be produced thanks to the Corynebacterium that we mentioned earlier, and men are thought to have a lot more of this Corynebacteriumbacteria than women (and therefore, higher quantities of VOCs and potentially smell, too!). Underarms that smell more like rotten onions or meat can be due to VOCs like 3M3SH, which is involved with the Staphylococcus hominis bacteria. If you are experiencing these, there is a chance that there is an overgrowth of these bacterias in your skin biome which are driving the odor - as well as potentially an overwhelm of toxins within the body that are trying to get out too, only exacerbating the odors.
These VOCs don’t only stop at armpits, though. They are the culprit behind smelly feet too! It’s actually the staphylococcus epidermis, which breaks down a product in your sweat into isovaleric acid, a cheesy-smelling compound that is thought to be involved with foot odor.
Now that we understand the basics of body odor and how the skin’s microbiome, bacterial population, and even internal toxins can all work together to create a smell, we can understand that other factors can also exacerbate this.
Genetics plays a big part in your body odor, but your diet, age, and stress levels can impact the smell too. Take the East Asian population for example, 80 - 95% of the population have a fairly common ABCC11 mutation which means that odorant substances are not produced at all as it prohibits sweat molecules from crossing a membrane barrier, starving the bacteria on the other side of the skin! Some compounds increase in quantity as we age, like the 2-Nonenal aldehyde too which is why the elderly population are also thought to carry their own unique type of smell too.
Stress is one of the most overlooked drivers of body odor today too. Whenever you are stressed out, feeling anxious, or having a terrible day, week, or even month, the body releases cortisol which is the stress hormone. This hormone also makes you stressed (which is often why you see people sweating during public speaking). So, if you live under high stress levels, and with a bacterial imbalance on your skin, this could also lead to increased levels of body odor. Consider reducing your stress levels through meditation, therapy, and getting out in nature.
The menstrual cycle can also play a part in how you smell! During our cycle, tons of changes occur within the female body, and the change in hormones can also increase body odor, increasing the alkaline content of the blood and emitting strong menstrual odors. These hormonal changes are real and also take place during big hormonal changes in life (pregnancy, postpartum, and menopause too).
On the more severe end of the spectrum, underlying disease and metabolic imbalances within the body (as well as thyroid imbalance and liver dysfunction) can also show up in the body through weird and funky smells. It’s good to know about:
- trimethylaminuria - associated with more fish-like body odor;
- Phenylketonuria - associated with a musty odor; and
- hypermethioninemia - associated with an odor akin to that of boiled cabbage.
Research has also confirmed that individuals with malaria have a unique blend of skin odors that makes them more attractive to mosquito vectors.
So, sometimes body odor can also reflect something much deeper going on within the body - and if you are struggling with recurrent and strong smells, it could be a sign of deeper dysfunction that you should explore.
So, smelly armpits? Here are my top tips for overhauling your body odor at the root cause:
- Throw your mainstream deo in the trash right now. Stop clogging up your delicate lymph nodes with chemically laden deodorants that block excretion pathways and keep these toxins inside the body. The armpit area needs to be able to breathe and excrete, not be suppressed - and allowing the process to happen as it needs to is a critical starting point;
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate - make sure you’re drinking a lot of high-quality water on a daily basis to help with the excretion process. Ditch the sugary drinks, reign in coffee consumption and focus on hydration, hydration, and hydration through filtered or spring water. Add electrolytes where necessary to help hydrate the body further.
- Work to reduce toxins and bad bacteria within the body- look into your gut health, any imbalance in your gut (including leaky gut that allows toxins to leak out and excrete through the skin) and any other overloaded sources of toxins in your diet. You can help your body to pull these toxins out where possible - think epsom baths, foot baths, infrared saunas, and more which can reduce your sweat glands being overloaded with toxins they have to remove.
- Replenish your good bacteria - power up your good bacteria with a good quality probiotic, nurturing your gut health, protecting your facial and general skin microbiome by avoiding harsh soaps, acids and cleansers and, instead, focus on feeding the good bacteria sources in your body so the good can fight against the bad in a nice balanced way (as they were meant to);
- Review your diet - if you are filling your body full of toxins from processed foods, refined sugars, added sugars, hydrogenated oils, seed oils and non-organic food, you are going to smell this through your armpits as they are going to constantly be needing to be excreted. Focus on organic, leafy vegetables, fresh food and veg and healthy oils as a starting point.
- Check for underlying medical conditions - consult a trusted medical expert to get your bloods done if you are living with what feels like an unnecessarily strong type of body odor. Explore thyroid imbalance too, as well as liver dysfunction.
- Liquid chlorophyll! I love this. This detoxifying supplement that you can add to your high quality water is a great way to help prevent odor from the inside of the body.
For me, it goes without saying that the deodorant I put on is so, so important to me and I’m so passionate about this, that it it is literally why I started Agent Nateur.
You can read more about the holi (stick) deodorant that started the Agent Empire, here (as well as my journey and why keeping aluminum out of your products is *so important*).
Our holi (stick) is the non-toxic and natural deodorant that will have you wondering how you ever coped without it. Due to the resounding success of the holi (stick) we have now also formulated and released an extended range of natural, powerful, beautiful deodorants, including:
- holi (rose) - developed in partnership with skincare formulator Shiva Rose. with the power to prevent odor with a romantic blend of warming sandalwood and love-enhancing ros
- the ‘sensitive’ holi (stick) - this was made for even the most sensitive skin types with essential oils of jasmine, bergamot, and sandalwood, free of baking soda.
- uni (sex) - perfect for the Agent Man and the Agent Woman, with a blend of cedarwood, Rosa Damascena, vetiver, and cistus, resulting in a complex scent with earthy top notes; and
- our (aime) probiotic deodorant - created in collaboration with French aime skincare founder Mathilde Lacombe, this gentle deodorant helps maintain the skin’s natural bacterial balance to prevent odor. Full of live enzymes and beneficial bacteria, our nourishing oil, butter, and beeswax base is also inspired by the French Riviera, and Vogue France lauds it as “un véritable must”.
There is something for everyone in my deo range, and it is the perfect way to battle body odor naturally without pushing more chemicals into your body which, in turn, might actually make the odor issues worse!
Remember - your body is always talking to you - even if that is through your armpits! Staying natural is so, so important in today’s highly toxic society and with Agent Nateur’s deos I made it my mission to make sure you don’t have to sacrifice on power so you can choose the natural option that is better for you.
Let me know how you get on.
Love Jena x
***THESE STATEMENTS HAVE NOT BEEN APPROVED OR REGULATED BY THE FDA. WE ARE NOT DOCTORS, THEREFORE ALWAYS CONSULT WITH YOUR DOCTOR FIRST.