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Breath, Body, Feet: Why You Stink and What You Can Do About It

By Martha Michael

Pass the Sniff Test

No one in America needed Madison Avenue to tell them that certain parts of their body were prone to developing foul smelling odors. What people may not recognize, however, is that there are medical explanations for them and that ignoring them can cause problems aside from just a shortage of friends.


The amount of mileage you can walk or jog before your feet start smelling varies from person to person, but anyone who fails to use proper hygiene can begin to stink.

An article by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center explains the science behind why your feet develop odors. Like other parts of your body, the skin of your foot is covered in sweat glands that can become a rich environment for bacteria to grow and the metabolic processes that emit odors. If you ignore the signals, you can develop fungal infections such as athlete’s foot.

A form of bacteria called brevibacterium establishes itself between the toes and it thrives in a damp, salty environment. That produces a smell that resembles cheese. It makes sense because brevibacterium is used in the process of creating Muenster, Limburger and Entrammes cheeses.

How to Avoid Smelly Feet

Daily bathing is the best way to fend off developing smells, especially if you scrub areas where bacteria hide, such as between the toes. Make sure your feet are dry before donning socks and shoes.

Socks are a good barrier to smelly shoes because they absorb sweat, which causes odors. The more absorbent your socks are, the easier it is to reduce the level of bacteria that infiltrates your shoes.

If you’ve ever been blown away by someone removing their shoes, you know how pungent the inside of your footwear can get when they don’t have breathing time. Alternate your shoes so they dry between uses because bacteria thrive in the moisture your foot leaves in place. You can purchase more breathable shoes as well.


Morning isn’t the only time people develop halitosis, but it is something everyone faces on a daily basis. You can’t prevent waking up with bad breath, but you can reduce the level of odor that develops through changes in diet and self-care techniques, according to an article on the Mayo Clinic website.

More than just an embarrassment, there are some medical reasons for bad breath. Conditions affecting the nose and throat can contribute to halitosis. Chronic inflammation in the nose or sinus areas causes post nasal drip, which is a source of bad breath; some individuals develop small stones on their tonsils which invite bacteria, causing an offensive odor.

There are also serious diseases that create bad breath. Victims of gastroesophageal reflux disease, metabolic disorders, and some cancers can cause your mouth to emit smells associated with bad breath.

Infections that form following oral surgery can also produce foul smells, along with medications that contribute to dry mouth.

How to Avoid Bad Breath

Products from mouthwash to gum will only treat halitosis temporarily. Routine dental care is an essential practice to contribute to the health of your mouth, teeth, and gums, which will also improve your breath. If you frequently have a problem with halitosis, consult your dental professional for treatment.

There are certain foods you should avoid because they increase the development of bacteria, which then affects how your breath smells. The Listerine website suggests staying away from five foods that cause bad breath.

Garlic - When you eat food infused with garlic, it is absorbed into your bloodstream. As a result, a bitter scent is emitted from both your mouth and your pores.

Onions - Like garlic, onions contain sulfuric compounds that enter your bloodstream and cause odors to your breath.

Dairy products - The bacteria that naturally grows on your tongue feeds on amino acids found in milk, cheese, and other dairy foods. The result is a foul odor.

Canned tuna - In the same way that seafood smells as it oxidizes, tuna starts smelling, particularly in the can. The process of storing it in metal makes the odor worse than what develops in fresh fish.

Horseradish - A byproduct of the flowering horseradish plant is the production of isothiocyanate, a chemical compound that makes animals too offended to eat it. It is the part of this food that provides a flavor that uniquely spices up meats and other dishes.


An article by Healthline explains the cause of underarm odor. Poor hygiene leads to most of the foul smells coming from your body, including under your arms. But there are also medical explanations for them.

There are two types of sweat glands -- eccrine and apocrine. Your skin’s surface is covered by eccrine glands, but areas with hair tend to have apocrine glands. When your body temperature increases, eccrine glands release a typically odorless sweat to cool it down. Apocrine glands are primarily activated by stress and the fluid that is released is also odorless, but its proximity to hair follicles mean it can come into contact with bacteria, which is what causes the foul smell.

If you sweat excessively, a condition known as hyperhidrosis, you probably smell worse than others with the same amount of physicality. You may want to consult your doctor to get a diagnosis and discuss treatment.

How to Avoid Underarm Odors

Most people use an over-the-counter deodorant or antiperspirant daily. You can try various brands to find the most effective product for you. Antiperspirants block your pores to minimize the production of sweat. Deodorants don’t reduce the sweat, but they contain products such as alcohol to inhibit the formation of bacteria.

Studies show that waxing or shaving the hair under your arms contributes to cleanliness and, as a result, lowers the possibility of bad smells developing. It may help to wear breathable fabrics such as cotton in loose-fitting styles to keep your temperature down and reduce sweating.

It may sound like you’re sweating the small stuff by addressing these problems, but smelling more like lavender than garlic will turn fewer heads in the boardroom and classroom -- and you’ll perspire less when you’re confident you can raise your hand if you’re sure.

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