Recently, scientists announced that they have unraveled the secrets of body odor (Scientific Reports, July 27, 2020). We have long known that some of the bacteria that live on the skin of the armpit were responsible, but these researchers have nailed it down. The bacteria is Staphylococcus hominis, which has apparently been part of our skin microbiota for many millions of years. Long ago, it acquired an enzyme that breaks down odorless components of sweat into stinky thioalcohol compounds. The big question is how do you change your armpit denizens so they no longer produce a horrible body odor. But what if it isn’t just the underarms that smell bad?
Could Diet Change Horrible Body Odor?
Q. My husband has horrible body odor. He showers every day, but he still smells terrible. It’s not only his underarms; it’s his whole body. I think it’s coming from the inside. Could certain foods be causing it? Please help.
Could the Problem Be Trimethylaminuria?
A. We don’t know why your husband smells bad. However, there is a condition called “trimethylaminuria” in which a person’s sweat, breath and urine smell like rotten fish (Drug Discovery Today, July 2020).
This condition is rare, and scientists have not done much research on how to treat the horrible body odor it produces. The smell can be controlled in part by avoiding fish, poultry, eggs and red meat in the diet and washing with a low pH cleanser such as AlphaHydrox moisturizing body wash, Cetaphil, CeraVe foaming facial cleanser or Sebamed.
In mice, a garlic compound called allicin helped reduce the buildup of TMA that causes the bad smell. We don’t know if eating garlic would help humans, however.
You may need to find a health professional who is familiar with trimethylaminuria diagnosis and treatment to see whether this is responsible for your husband’s problem. He should see his primary care physician for a referral; that person will first want to rule out serious liver disease or diabetes, which can also cause horrible body odor (International Journal of Molecular Sciences, April 2020).