“Stinky feet” can be cute in a toddler, but for most of us, smelly body parts are something we’d rather avoid. Whether it’s feet, armpits, ears, breath or genitals, certain body parts are especially vulnerable to odor. Deodorant can help temporarily but isn’t a cure. Body odor can develop for several reasons—poor hygiene, poor diet, inadequate hydration, disease and the use of certain medications, such as antibiotics. Fungi and bacteria can live on the skin and in body parts, too, causing musty, funky odors. Infections of all sorts—such as strep throat or an ear or a vaginal infection—will cause a putrid odor around the affected body part. Liver disease can result in a dusty, mousy body odor.
If you don’t like how you smell…
• Consider what you eat. A diet high in animal fat and protein—such as cheese, milk, meat and eggs—will create more body odor than a diet high in fruits and vegetables. This odor comes mainly from the by-products of fat and protein digestion. What helps: Reduce your animal food intake by half, and double your fruit and vegetable intake. Do this for 10 days. If your diet was the culprit, you’ll start smelling better!
• Avoid garlic and onions. These foods release sulfur-smelling compounds through the lungs and skin. If you can’t make yourself give them up, try this: Rather than having garlic or onions raw, cook them. This helps reduce the sulfuric compounds that lead to body odor. The spice cumin can also make you smell bad. If it does, avoid it.
• Drink water as your primary beverage. Coffee creates the infamous “coffee breath,” and sugary beverages (and sweets in general) increase your risk for fungus, the organism primarily responsible for jock itch, vaginitis and stinky feet. What helps: Drink half your body weight in ounces of water daily. In addition, certain herbal teas gently support liver health, reducing body odor caused by medication or high-fat foods. My favorite is a combination of the liver-healthy herbs dandelion root, burdock root, yellow dock root and milk thistle.* You may be able to find all of these herbs in a premixed tea, or you can buy small amounts of each and combine them in equal parts yourself. What to do: Use two teaspoons of dried herb mix per 10 ounces of water. Simmer or steep for five minutes, and drink 24 ounces a day. It may take 10 or more days to notice significant changes in body odor with this tea.
• Do a vinegar spritz. While it won’t cure the problem—smells are most often generated from the inside out—vinegar can kill fungi and bacteria on the skin, thus reducing odor caused by these organisms. Use a 50/50 white vinegar/water solution, and spray it over your feet, armpits and genitalia. Towel off after a minute or two (the vinegar smell will quickly dissipate).
Important: If your body odor persists and/or is noticed by others—and does not improve with these suggestions—see your doctor. Very strong body odor can be a sign of serious disease such as infection, cancer or organ failure.
*Avoid these herbs if you have a ragweed allergy. Check first with your doctor if you have a chronic condition or take medication, since these herbs could interact.
Source: Jamison Starbuck, ND, is a naturopathic physician in family practice and a guest lecturer at the University of Montana, both in Missoula. She is a past president of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians and a contributing editor to The Alternative Advisor: The Complete Guide to Natural Therapies and Alternative Treatments. DrJamisonStarbuck.com