This article originally appeared in Men’s Health
No matter how hard you try to fight body odor, that putrid-smelling perspiration always seems to leave you drenched in stench at the worst possible moment. No one likes to stink — but everyone deals with it. When it comes to B.O., stress, your grooming routine, and certain health problems can all make an impact.
Even the food you eat might play a role, explains George Preti, Ph.D, an organic chemist who studies body odor at the Monell Chemical Senses Center, but scientists are still trying to figure out how your diet contributes to your stench.
That’s because “body odor is a relatively complex situation,” says David Pariser, M.D., a dermatologist at Pariser Dermatology.
Your body has two types of sweat glands, he explains. Eccrine glands produce the relatively stink-free watery sweat that covers your body after a tough workout. Apocrine glands, on the other hand, live in your underarms and groin, where they secrete oily substances that account for most of your body odor.
Those glands are likely responsible for the link between your diet and your B.O. Still, there’s little concrete research exploring the connection, and even after a particularly smelly meal, it’s difficult to tell what causes any specific body odor and where it’s coming from.
In fact, your body creates two naturally-occuring odors that happen to smell like food — sweaty onion and spicy cumin — even though they aren’t necessarily caused by eating.
“We don’t know if these types of odors are transmitted into the underarm secretions from food, but we do know that most of the people walking around the planet have the ability to produce these odors in their underarm,” Preti says.
Your diet will likely have a small effect, if any, on your B.O. Still, there are specific foods that have the ability to affect certain people, says Dr. Pariser. Here are a few to watch out for.
BROCCOLI, CABBAGE, AND CAULIFLOWER
For some people, body odor might be caused by foods that contain sulfur, such as broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower, says Lily Talakoub, M.D., a dermatologist at McLean Dermatology and Skincare Center. “Regardless of whether you eat them raw or if you cook them, it’s the way the body breaks it down,” she says.
These foods release sulfur — typically responsible for that rotten egg smell — as you digest them, which makes its way to your sweat glands, brewing some pungent B.O. in the process.
This link hasn’t been researched thoroughly enough to establish a definite relationship, so you don’t need to avoid sulfurous vegetables entirely, especially since they’re packed with disease-fighting health benefits.
But if you eat them regularly and suspect they could be contributing to your body odor, it doesn’t hurt to occasionally switch things up. Go for other colorful fruits and vegetables that don’t contain as much sulfur, like squash, sweet potato, eggplant, oranges, and peaches.
GARLIC AND ONIONS
Any type of food that makes your breath reek is bad news for B.O.
A major culprit? Garlic and onions. “You can’t discount the fact that people are emitting most of the odors through their mouth,” Preti says. “Every time they are breathing, they are exhaling onions and garlic, which creates a little cloud around them of [onion or] garlic smell.”
Coffee and canned fish may cause a similar issue. Brushing your teeth and drinking plenty of water after a particularly fragrant meal helps, since you’ll flush away food particles and bacteria.
A metabolic disorder called trimethylaminuria (TMAU) can actually make you smell like one of the most recognizable odors out there — rotten fish
Commonly known as fish odor syndrome, people suffering from TMAU can’t break down trimethylamine, a compound that has a fishy smell. When you digest certain foods, like eggs, fish, or even some vegetables, your body produces trimethylamine in your intestines. As it builds up in your body, it’s released through your urine, breath, sweat, and semen, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
The condition is considered rare by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), but one 2011 study of 353 people with previously unexplained B.O. found that 118 of those patients tested positive for TMAU. There’s no established cure, but treatment options include cutting trimethylamine-rich foods out of your diet and using special soaps or washes.
That slab of steak could be stinking up your sweat, according to research published in the journal Chemical Senses. For the study, researchers had one group of guys eat red meat twice a day for two weeks while another group ate no red meat at all for the same time period.
During the last 24 hours of the experiment, the men wore pads under their armpits to collect their body odor. Then, the researchers had 30 women sniff and rate each one these pads for intensity, sexual attractiveness, and masculinity. The verdict? The guys who didn’t eat meat smelled more pleasant and attractive.
That doesn’t necessarily prove that red meat is directly causing your smelly pits, especially because only 17 men were involved in the study, but it hints at a possible link. The researchers theorize that the fat content in red meat may mess with the chemicals your armpits produce in your sweat glands. As the bacteria on your skin feed on those fatty acids, they create a particularly pungent odor.
Downing too much booze can pave the way for particularly awful morning breath, according to a study published in the Journal of Dental Research.
After assesing the breath of nearly 90 adults, the study authors found that people who regularly drink alcohol have a unique type of breath, possibly because the alcohol in your mouth or liver reacts with other chemicals to produce “odorous byproducts,” like acetaldehyde, a liquid with a strong “suffocating smell,” according to the NIH.
Alcohol can also dry out your mouth, which is a problem, since saliva typically washes away the dead cells that build up in your mouth. When those dead cells just hang out, they start to decompose, giving off gross breath.