Humans can be a stinky species. Let’s face it, our bodies are quite adept at producing odors, many of them fairly rank. From orifices to crooks and crevices, our bodies give off a range of scents that can titillate or torment, depending upon conditions.
One of the most odoriferous places I’ve ever encountered is the London Underground. During the summer of 2002, I was completing my museum internship at the Natural History Museum and was a frequent traveler aboard the Tube. And because London is such a multicultural city, its public transportation provides a vast range of bodily aromas. B.O. abounded, as did the smell of unwashed hair and feet. Cooking spices lingered on breath and skin, intensified by the stifling heat of the subway, making it feel as if we were trapped in a steaming pot of tandoori. When the train finally screeched to a stop and the doors flew open, fresh air would rush in as the aromatic mob rushed out.
We’ve already covered the intricate dance between nose and brain in October’s Something Smells, so I thought we would explore our body’s amazing ability to produce odor. Let’s start at the head and work our way down…We’ve all experienced bad breath (either personally or in our partner), especially in the morning, when the bacteria that infiltrate our mouths have had hours to multiply unchecked. Those bacteria, if left to their own devices, can cause gum disease, which in turn can cause chronic bad breath, technically known as halitosis. But gum disease is only one cause of a stinky mouth. What you eat can also affect your breath, especially foods that stink on their own. Onion and garlic not only pass through your mouth and down your gullet, they are also absorbed by your bloodstream where they travel to your lungs and are eventually exhaled. Not a good scenario if intimacy is on the agenda.
Other harbingers of halitosis include conditions such as diabetes and acid reflux, poor fitting dentures that trap food, and the worst offense of all – SMOKING!! Not only are you destroying your lungs, you’re also destroying the nasal passages of those you kiss. There’s nothing worse than French kissing an ashtray.
Moving down the body, we arrive at those classic stinkers, the armpits. Your body has two types of sweat glands which serve two different functions: the eccrine glands, which cover most of your body, and the apocrine glands that reside beneath the hairier regions, such as the armpits and groin. As your body heats up, the eccrines cool you down by secreting fluid onto the surface of your skin. The apocrines, however, are triggered by stress and respond by producing a milky fluid into your hair follicles. Although the fluid is odorless, it blends with bacteria on your skin to produce that common and oh-so-pungent aroma, body odor.Moving south, we arrive at the genitals. Here, our paths diverge, for odor in the nether regions depends on whether you sport a penis or a vagina. They each have their own aromatic obstacles.
Women are all too familiar with issues of odor, for whenever you possess a warm, moist, cavity, sooner or later, it’s going to stink. Normal sweating and fluctuations in your menstrual cycle can cause odor, but if it persists, bacteria are probably to blame. The most common cause of vaginal odor is a lovely condition known as bacterial vaginosis – an uprising of the normally occurring bacteria in which they overrun the V, leading to a smelly situation. Poor hygiene can also cause a stench, and many women respond by douching 'til the cows come home. Big mistake. Douching can lead to other problems by further upsetting the bacterial tug-of-war. A bit of advice: if you smell like the docks, it’s time to call your doc.And although you guys are vagina-free, it doesn’t mean you can pass the smell test. Remember our buddies, the apocrines? They kick into overdrive when you’re emotionally stressed (or excited!) and the furrier you are down there, the more apt you are to smell. What do the experts recommend? You can bump up your personal hygiene routine, wear loose clothing (preferably cotton), and whip out the hedge clippers to keep things tidy.
We finally arrive at the feet. Yes, foot odor is a common malady and even has a super-scientific name: bromodosis. Feet stink because feet sweat. In fact, there are more sweat glands on our feet than anywhere else on our bodies! And the more we sweat, the more we stink. To make matters worse, some folks suffer from hyperhidrosis, aka, excessive sweating.But just like our smelly mouths, pits, and genitalia, there are remedies for smelly feet. Changing your shoes, wearing cotton socks, and using powder to absorb moisture can thwart foot odor. In fact, all of these stinky situations can be remedied with proper hygiene.
Your body is a complex organism, fueled by millions of chemical reactions taking place as you eat, sleep, and go about your daily routine. So it’s no surprise that some of those reactions produce funky smells.
So brush your teeth, take a shower, trim your hairy regions, and change your shoes and you too can be odor free. Your body - and those around you - will thank you.
Catch you next week!