During my afternoon break, Ida came to chat with me.
“Juliet, not only do I sweat on my palms, but also at my underarms, with some odour too!” Ida looked obviously distraught.
I asked if she had tried using any deodorants or antiperspirants.
“Sometimes, yes! I’m not even sure if I have problems with excessive sweating causing sweat odour, or do I have body odour myself, but I always worry about covering my body odour.”
Do you remember Ida? She’s an intern nurse here at the hospital. I previously also talked with her about her problems with sweaty palms.
Today, we shall look into the problem of body odour. Strictly speaking, body odour is not a sickness, and doesn’t cause any harm to our body health, but it can indeed affect the people around and the person’s own mental stress.
What’s the relationship between excessive sweating and body odour?
We have two types of sweat glands in our body, the apocrine gland and the eccrine gland. Eccrine glands can be found all around our body, and mainly functions to release heat when sweating.
Eccrine glands are controlled by the nervous system, so excessive sweating is caused by over-stimulation of the nervous system.
Apocrine glands are mainly distributed at the underarms, crotch area, nipple areola, and the external auditory canal. The sweat released by apocrine glands contain different types of protein and fatty acids.
Though these secretions are originally odourless, they can produce a bad smell after coming into contact with the air and microorganisms on our skin. Body odour is mainly found on people who have more concentrated and active apocrine glands.
So, excessive sweating and body odour are two different problems, but some of us do face both of these at the same time.
I’ll talk about excessive sweating some other time, today I shall focus on dissecting the peculiar problem of body odour.
Why do we release body odour?
What produces this odour? When the secretion from our apocrine glands are broken down by the staphylococcus bacteria on our skin, unsaturated fatty acids with a bad odour is released.
Also, did you know that the prevalence of body odour for women is 4 times higher than men?!
I thought about this for some time, since we usually associate body odour with men. Perhaps women are more concerned about personal image and cleanliness, so we hide odour problems very carefully.
Everyone has apocrine glands. But why do only some of us produce body odour? Most of these problems come from inheritance.
Based on a study, if both parents have body odour problems, there’s an 80% chance for this trait to be inherited; if only one of the parents have body odour, there’s still a 50% chance for the child to inherit this.
In scientific terms, this genetic problem is caused by the key chromosome of ABCC11 in the DNA16 gene (the gene connected to body odour).
Body Odour and Earwax
The issue with smell is very subjective. So previously during my time in a medical clinic in Taiwan, we did tests for patients with body odour on the gene ABCC11(SNPrs17822931 in the ABCC11 gene)
One interesting point found is that body odour is connected to whether your earwax is wet or dry! In other words, people with a tendency to have body odour from the underarms, usually also have wet or oily earwax.
On the other hand, people with dry earwax are the ‘lucky’ ones with invisible ABCC11 genes. The condition on the skin at the underarms are generally less favourable for bacteria, so the chances of body odour are also reduced.
With these explanations, hopefully all of us can now have a better understanding on body odour.
If you have body odour problems, don’t feel bad too - check out my previous guide on Self-Care Tips for Body Odour.
Although daily self-care won’t completely get rid of body odour, it can help reduce these odours significantly. If you’re interested in getting a professional opinion from a specialist doctor on this, take a look here for the list of medical clinics in Malaysia with treatments for body odour.