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What Body Odors Can Tell You About Your Health

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Almost everyone has an occasional bout of bad breath, body odor or awful-smelling flatulence. While these odors can be embarrassing, they usually are not a sign of a serious health problem.

But in some cases, body odors are symptoms of a health problem and warrant medical attention–especially if the smell is new or offensive to yourself or others.

Five common body odors you should not ignore…

EXTREMELY SMELLY SWEAT

Sweating eliminates toxins from your body, so it’s normal for it to cause some odor. However, particularly bad-smelling sweat may be due to problems digesting dietary fats (causing a rancid odor) or a magnesium deficiency (producing a locker-room smell). In some people, the odor may be related to a yeast or bacterial infection of the skin (causing a yeasty or sickeningly sweet smell).

Kidney failure or liver failure may cause sweat to smell like ammonia.

My advice: Boost your overall intake of vegetables and other high-fiber foods, such as flaxseed meal or apples. Fiber soaks up toxins and helps eliminate poorly digested fats that can cause body odor.

To improve magnesium levels, increase your intake of green vegetables, such as broccoli and kale, and reduce your consumption of sugar. Too much sugar not only depletes magnesium, but also feeds any odor-causing yeast that may be lurking in your body. Stress and alcohol also can deplete magnesium, so try to minimize both. If you think that you may need more magnesium, ask your doctor about taking a magnesium supplement.

If these steps don’t help within a few days, see your doctor.

BAD BREATH

Coffee and garlic, as well as poor dental hygiene, are known to cause bad breath. Dehydration or a dry mouth also can be the culprit.

In some people, bad breath occurs when stomach acid is depleted due to a deficiency of zinc or thiamine (vitamin B-1). Even being anxious or nervous — which triggers the release of stress hormones, such as cortisol — can make your breath smell bad.

Few people realize that acid-suppressing drugs, such as esomeprazole (Nexium) and omeprazole (Prilosec), can result in breath that smells putrid. Without enough stomach acid, food ferments in the gut. People with lactose intolerance also have bad breath if they consume dairy products.

Bad breath with a fruity smell may be a sign of diabetes. The fruity scent occurs because fats and protein are burned rather than glucose.

Breath with a fishy smell may indicate liver failure, while breath that smells like ammonia may occur in late stages of kidney failure.

My advice: Brush your teeth twice a day and floss daily. If your gums are swollen, red or tender, you may have gum disease, so be sure to see a dentist.

Also, make sure that you’re drinking enough water, so that you don’t get dehydrated.

To determine how much water you need: Divide your body weight in half and convert it to ounces. For example, someone who weighs 150 pounds should drink 75 ounces of water daily.

If you suspect a zinc or thiamine deficiency, eat more zinc-rich foods, such as lean meats, seafood and pumpkin seeds, as well as foods that contain thiamine, such as oatmeal, oranges and green peas.

For occasional bad breath: Drink green tea–it contains plant compounds known as polyphenols, which help fight the odor.

If you’ve been taking an acid-suppressing drug, talk to your doctor about using digestive enzymes or apple cider vinegar (one teaspoon to one tablespoon in a few ounces of water) with meals.

If these steps don’t improve your bad breath within a few days, talk to your doctor. If your breath has a fruity or fishy smell, see your doctor immediately to rule out diabetes and liver failure, respectively.

FOUL-SMELLING FLATULENCE

Extremely foul-smelling flatulence may be due to poor absorption of dietary fats. This is most often caused by insufficient amounts of pancreatic enzymes or a lack of bile to help with the digestive process.

In people who take acid-suppressing medication for heartburn, the odor may be due to a lack of stomach acid, since food takes longer to work its way through the digestive tract and may not even fully digest.

The smell also may be a sign of dysbiosis, an imbalance of bacteria in the intestines caused by the use of antibiotics or the ingestion of contaminated foods, such as poorly cooked meats. Taking antibiotics kills the good and bad bacteria in the body, allowing bacterial infections when the bad bacteria overwhelm the good.

My advice: When you eat, chew your food until it is essentially liquefied. The amylase produced in your saliva from chewing enhances the breakdown of food so it is more likely to be thoroughly digested.

Also, ask a doctor about taking an over-the-counter pancreatic enzyme supplement that contains amylase, protease and lipase. These enzymes help the body break down food more effectively.

To restore stomach acid, try taking 180 mg of the digestive aid hydrochloric acid with each meal or drink a vinegar-and-water mixture.

If you’re on an antibiotic, ask your doctor about taking one to four probiotic capsules (such as lactobacillus acidophilus and/or bifidobacterium bifidus) daily for at least a week after completing the antibiotic course to restore the healthful bacteria to your gut.

If these solutions don’t work within a few days, see your doctor. A stool analysis may be necessary to rule out a bacterial infection.

STRANGE-SMELLING URINE

If your urine doesn’t smell normal, it may be due to a urinary tract infection (UTI). Note: Asparagus causes a harmless and temporary change in the smell of urine.

My advice: For urinary tract infections, I sometimes prescribe antibiotics or recommend herbs such as uva ursi, goldenseal, echinacea, Oregon grape and/or usnea in a combination product (usually 250-mg to 500-mg capsules) taken four times daily. Cranberry extract, two capsules taken three to four times a day, also helps.

To help prevent UTIs, I recommend taking D-mannose, a nondigestible sugar that inhibits disease-causing bacteria from adhering to urinary tract cells, and/or cranberry capsules. Make sure that you also drink enough water.

BAD FOOT ODOR

Smelly feet often result from a bacterial or fungal infection, such as athlete’s foot.

My advice: A bacterial infection may require an antibiotic, while a fungal infection may clear up with the use of an over-the-counter antifungal cream containing miconazole, or, if that doesn’t work, a prescription antifungal.

See your doctor if the skin on your feet is broken, scaly or inflamed (red color may be present). These may be signs of a foot infection. If wounds don’t heal, you may have diabetes.

Home remedies that help eliminate foot odor: Soak your feet in a quart of lukewarm water that contains one tablespoon of vinegar. Soaking your feet for at least 30 minutes a day for a few weeks usually takes care of the problem.

Another option is to rub your feet with a menthol vapor rub, such as Vicks Vaporub, which contains essential oils with antiseptic properties.

If the smell persists after a couple of weeks, talk to your doctor.

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Source: Kevin Wilson, ND, a naturopathic physician in private practice in Hillsboro, Oregon. He is an adjunct professor of naturopathic medicine at the National College of Natural Medicine in Portland and vice-speaker of the House of Delegates for the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. Date: September 1, 2010 Publication: Bottom Line Health
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