True cause of body odour identified by scientists

Alexandra Thompson
·2 min read
Midsection of businesswoman with sweaty armpits holding fan against green background
Heavy sweating can cause the unpleasant odour. (Getty Images)

Scientists may have identified the true culprit behind body odour (BO).

Working up a sweat triggers the release of a distinctly pungent aroma, with research previously suggesting a warm, moist armpit provides the perfect breeding ground for stink-producing bacteria.

Read more: Teens can’t smell their own BO

This may not tell the whole story, however: a team from the University of York believes an enzyme may also be to blame.

While many turn to antiperspirants in an attempt to control their BO, the scientists hope their discovery will lead to more specialised treatments for severe sufferers.

Young lady wrapped in white towel raise arm apply antiperspirant in armpit, woman use underarm deodorant stick for daily hygiene everyday freshness, hyperhidrosis treatment concept close up rear view
The results may lead to more effective antiperspirants. (Getty Images)

While most people experience BO at some point in their life, severe cases can affect self-esteem, prompting doctors to prescribe stronger antiperspirants or even surgery to remove the sweat glands.

“Solving the structure of this ‘BO enzyme’ has allowed us to pinpoint the molecular step inside certain bacteria that makes the odour molecules,” said study author Dr Michelle Rudden.

Read more: App alerts you when you smell bad

“This is a key advancement in understanding how body odour works and will enable the development of targeted inhibitors that stop BO production at source without disrupting the armpit microbiome."

Armpits play host to a diverse community of bacteria that make up the skin’s microbiome.

The scientists found that only bacteria that contained the “BO enzyme” caused an unpleasant odour.

Results, published in the journal Scientific Reports, suggest this enzyme was around long before Homo sapiens evolved.

This implies BO may have played an important role in communication between ancestral primates, according to the scientists.

“This research was a real eye-opener,” said Dr Gordon James from Unilever, which collaborated on the study.

Read more: Why some people don't have to wear deodorant

“It was fascinating to discover a key odour-forming enzyme exists in only a select few armpit bacteria and evolved there tens of millions of years ago.”

People can ward off BO by washing problem areas – like armpits and feet – at least twice a day with soap and drying them thoroughly.

Shaving armpits regularly, washing clothes and wearing natural fabrics like cotton can also help.

It may also be wise to avoid alcohol, caffeine and spicy or smelly food.

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