Surprising things that make you stink

Showering and brushing your teeth every day isn't enough. These stealth sources of body odor, whether from food, meds or health conditions, can sneak up on you.
© MSN Healthy Living // © MSN Health

An unwashed body will most certainly start to reek. But you're not off the hook simply because you shower every day: Stealth sources of B.O. can sneak up and stench your personal space.

What's worse is that even if you don't notice malodor, others around you most certainly will.  "When you're exposed to a new odor, you notice it right away," explains George Preti, an organic chemist and smell researcher at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, Pa. "But after continual exposure you develop a type of smell-specific anosmia, or an inability to detect that smell. Once you've adapted to the odor you no longer perceive it, even though it is still present." The bottom line: If you stink, you may not realize it. But you can clear the air: Here are 12 smelly body odor culprits.

-- By Martica Heaner for MSN Healthy Living

1 of 14 woman covering nose (Bobbie Osborne/Getty Images)

Gum disease

Periodontitis is a gum disease that develops from plaque that has built up, allowing bacteria to thrive and flourish. Inflamed and, eventually, infected gums lead to tooth loss. "The bacteria present in this condition produce a volatile sulfur compound that causes bad breath," explains Richard Downs, a dentist in private practice in Dubuque, Iowa who specializes in breath disorders.

Although good oral hygiene like brushing, along with mouthwashes or breath mints, helps for the short term, you can't really quash the odor without professional help to eliminate the root cause. Depending upon the stage of periodontitis, this might involve a deep dental cleaning to remove tartar on your teeth, or for advanced stages, surgical treatments.

2 of 14 Brushing teeth (Andreas Stamm/Getty Images)

Paleo or low-carb diets

The very low-carbohydrate eating trend in recent years has led to an explosion of bad breath. Why? A sour-fruit-tinged mouth odor can be a characteristic side-effect of these diets.

By drastically reducing the amount of carbs consumed, the body is triggered to enter the semi-starvation state of ketosis, where fat is metabolized to provide fuel that the brain needs to survive — fuel that normally comes from carbs in foods. Smelly ketones, a byproduct of this process, are expelled by the body in breath and urine. 

"If a person has dropped carb intake low enough to have ketosis breath, they're likely not eating enough fruits, vegetables, legumes and/or grains and may be incurring nutrient deficiencies — including not enough fiber," says Kristine Clark, director of sports nutrition at Penn State University. The quick fix for a foul mouth? Eat more foods that contain carbohydrates including fruits, veggies, beans, nuts and whole grains.

3 of 14 Steak (Roberto A Sanchez/Getty Images)

Prescription meds

Everyone knows that drugs can have side-effects. But they aren't exclusively of the headache/tummy-ache variety. Some prescription meds might make you smell.

Anti-depressants and other drugs can increase how much you sweat. The more you sweat, the greater the chances that odor-causing bacteria will flourish. Meds that list dry-mouth as a side-effect such as those for allergies or high blood pressure can lead to bad breath, since saliva helps flush the mouth to keep it clean.

"Also, the molecular structure of a drug may play a role," explains Preti. "If a chemical compound contains lots of nitrogen and sulfur, it may taint your body odor. For example, penicillin-type drugs may cause your urine to smell."

4 of 14 Prescription medication bottles (Roel Smart/Getty Images)

Tongue plaque

It's no secret that brushing and flossing can keep teeth clean. But what most people don't realize is that the back of the tongue is a ripe surface for harboring plaque and bacteria. "Some people may have a bumpier or more crevice-filled tongue surface that allows plaque to settle. Post-nasal drip and dry-mouth can also contribute to its buildup," explains Downs. "When plaque gets thick enough, the bacteria releases volatile sulfur compounds." This condition produces the type of chronic halitosis that you can't brush away.

Brushing, flossing and especially using a tongue scraper can help keep it at bay, as will drinking plenty of water to help flush bacteria away. Mouthwashes can help, although effectiveness varies. "Alcohol-based rinses can dry your mouth and promote more bacterial growth," says Downs.

5 of 14 A tongue (Getty Images)

Eating too few greens

Chlorophyll is what makes plants bright green. It's thought to also act as an internal body deodorant, according to a review from the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University.

Research in the 1950s found that giving it to the elderly, mentally ill or patients with colostomies reduced body odors. "Chlorophyllin, the form found in some supplements,  can inhibit certain malodors such as trimethyl amine and sulfur compounds," says Preti. "The chemical form in supplements is different than that found in leafy greens. It includes copper that also inhibits bacterial growth."

"To freshen up, eat chlorophyll-rich greens such as spinach and watercress at most meals or drink fresh-squeezed green drinks like wheatgrass or kale-spinach-apple-lemon juice," says registered dietician Brenda Davis, author of "Becoming Raw.” You can also include a splash of liquid chlorophyll in smoothies or juices.

6 of 14 Spinach (Kyu Oh/Getty Images)

Eating too much meat

"People who eat plant-based vegan diets often notice that people who eat meat have a more repugnant body odor," says Canadian-based nutritionist Brenda Davis.  Blog posts from people who have upped their meat consumption by following Paleo or 'primal' diets report an increased incidence of worsened body odor.

A 2006 study in the journal Chemical Senses examined the phenomenon by having 17 men follow diets that were identical except for including or excluding meat. On the 14th day on the eating regimen, the men wore cotton pads underneath their armpits and 30 women were asked to rate their armpit odors for pleasantness, attractiveness, masculinity and intensity. One month later, the men on each diet spent two weeks following the opposite diet and odors were assessed again. The smells from the men during their non-meat eating period were rated as significantly more pleasant, more attractive and less intense than samples from when they had been eating meat.

7 of 14 Meat (Jupiterimages/Getty Images)

Curry, cumin and other spices

Some spices seem to give some bodies a very spicy smell. "Although there is insufficient research to prove this, anecdotal reports say that people who eats lots of curry- and cumin-spiced foods have body odors tainted with these spice aromas," says Preti. The person consuming these spices at most meals may not notice the odor, but those not enjoying the feasts most certainly will.

"I'm hesitant to advise people to avoid herbs and spices since they have been shown to not only provide enjoyable flavors, but to have beneficial nutrients," says Clark at Penn State. "But when you are eating potentially-smelly foods, it's a good idea to be aware that you could be pretty offensive." Her tips?  Even though many of these odors cannot be totally eliminated, good hygiene — tooth brushing, body bathing and using deodorant/antiperspirant — can help minimize."And be conscientious about standing or talking too close to others," says Clark.

8 of 14 Curried dinner (Pepe Nilsson/Getty Images)


Although a little wine or a beer doesn't appear to produce bad body odors, some people experience noxious morning-after breath or sweat after one too many the night before. The fumes may also be the result of social smoking that went along with the drinking. "If you're hungover, you may be dehydrated and the dry mouth can contribute to bad breath," says Clark. "And people that drink a lot, such as alcoholics, may have nutritional deficiencies that produce a similar ketotic diet as found in people on low-carb diets." To avoid imbiber's breath, drink less alcohol and drink more water.

9 of 14 Mojito cocktails (Laura Allard-Fleischl/Getty Images)

Kidney disease, liver malfunctions and other health conditions

The two main de-toxifying organs in the body are the liver and the kidneys. When their functioning is impaired, so is their ability to remove toxins. This can lead to a build-up of volatile compounds that is thought produce an unpleasant body odor.

Other health conditions can also leave a person smelly. A 2011 review in the Journal of Biochemistry reviewed the evidence for the presence of volatile organic compounds that are emitted from breath, sweat, skin, urine, feces and vaginal secretions. Some infectious diseases such as cholera, scarlet fever, pneumonia and tuberculosis are associated with body odors. And some cancers seem to emit specific odors that are detectable by trained dogs, which have a more highly acute sense of smell than humans.

Certain metabolic diseases such as phenylketonuria (PKU) are characterized by identifiable body smells. And one distinctly disturbing diseases is trimethylaminuria (TMAU) leaves sufferers with a fishy body odor that is so strong it can fill a room. "TMAU is rare, fewer than 1 in 200,000 people have it," says Preti who diagnoses and offers advice for people who test positive for the condition.

10 of 14 Liver (Ingram Publishing/Getty Images)