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Body and body odor. Of course, we can all have a little bad breath from time to time, and that’s to be expected, but sometimes unusual body odor can be the result of an underlying medical condition.

We asked Dr. Sharon Allison-Otty, CEO of COSHAR Foundation for Healthy Communities and a member of the Healthy Women’s Health Advisory Board, about what odors are just a part of life and when they should be considered.

The science of body odor
The body odor you’re most familiar with is sweat, which is a necessary bodily function. “Sweat is very important for keeping our bodies in balance,” explains Allison-Otti. “It’s a cooling mechanism, and if you don’t sweat … [you] can die of overheating.”

Why does our sweat sometimes smell bad? You may be surprised to know that sweat itself is odorless. “Sweat, in its purest sense, is the secretion of fluids from your body,” says Allison-Otti. “But if you have bacteria and fungi on your skin, when they mix with the sweat, you get a strong odor.” It can be embarrassing, but if it disappears in the bath, it is not a reason to worry.

Some foods cause bad body odor. “If you eat a lot of asparagus, your urine will have a certain smell,” says Allison-Otti. “After eating something like garlic, your breath will smell strong.”

What can your body odor tell you?
So what conditions can an unpleasant or unusual smell be a warning about? There are quite a few of them, but among the possible culprits:


Fruity body odor can be a sign of diabetes. “The sugar in the urine is what causes the odor,” Ellison-Otti explains. “Doctors used to diagnose diabetes by the smell of breath and urine.” If you have diabetic ketoacidosis, your urine may smell sweet, which is caused by a lack of insulin in people with diabetes.


Ketosis, a state of ketosis caused by a lack of fat-burning carbohydrates, often results from the ketogenic diet (commonly called “keto”) and makes it difficult to breathe. bad smell. This is often referred to as “keto breathing”. Because the keto diet causes an imbalance in the pH of the vagina, “Keto perineum” can occur.

Vaginal condition

A change in the smell of urine can be a sign of a urinary tract infection that causes a strong odor caused by ammonia production. Although thrush is usually odorless, bacterial vaginosis can have a foul odor, Ellison-Otti says.

Liver or kidney disease

A bleach-like odor can indicate liver or kidney disease.

intestinal problems

Bad-smelling stools are a cause for concern because they can indicate conditions such as Crohn’s disease, intestinal infections, or malnutrition.

Hormonal changes

Hormonal changes can cause new or different odors. Human beings have their own unique smell. “We all emit pheromones,” Ellison-Otti says. But this smell becomes stronger during ovulation. “When you ovulate, pheromones or other scents are responsible for attracting males in the animal world,” he added. “That’s why some women notice a different smell than usual when they’re ovulating.” Hormonal changes during menopause, menstruation, and pregnancy can lead to hot flashes and sweating, which can cause additional body odor.

a young woman sniffs her armpit

When to Contact a Health Care Provider
Watch for new body odors and pay attention to anything new or unusual to you, as this could be a sign of an undiagnosed medical condition. Contact your health care provider to see if they can help you understand the mystery odor.

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