What Are the Common Causes of Body Odor?

B. Miller

There are a number of different potential causes of body odor, from poor personal hygiene habits to the type of diet an individual follows. Certain illnesses, such as kidney or liver disease, or diabetes, can also be common causes of body odor; it is typically only a cause for concern if an individual notices a sudden, persistent change in the body odor, or if sweating during the day or at night drastically increases. In most cases, there is a simpler explanation for body odor, such as excessive sweating due to exercise, or possibly a change in medication.

A stick of deodorant.
A stick of deodorant.

It is important to remember that sweat by itself does not have an odor; however, once the sweat interacts with bacteria on the skin, and the bacteria begins to multiply, this is what causes body odor. Certain areas of the body make it easier for bacteria to grow, such as the armpits, groin, and feet. Overweight individuals who may have skin folds may find this as well. One of the best ways to address these causes of body odor is simply to cleanse the body regularly with warm water and soap, dry all areas thoroughly, and be sure to wear deodorant every day. Going barefoot as much as possible can help prevent body odor on the feet, because it will help to keep them dry.

A good soap or body wash and regular showering can often combat body odor.
A good soap or body wash and regular showering can often combat body odor.

Diet is another one of the leading causes of body odor. Spicy foods, or things like garlic and onions, can actually come out of the body in the sweat, and can lead to body odor. Alcohol abuse can also cause very strong body odor, as this is something else that will be expelled through the sweat. Alcoholics often have a very distinctive smell for that very reason. In general, these causes of body odor can be resolved by making significant changes to diet and lifestyle.

Changes in medication can also cause body odor; some medications simply cause this problem, unfortunately. In addition, some serious illnesses, from cancer to kidney failure, can also be causes of body odor. It is important to make note of any changes in body odor; for instance, if it suddenly has an odd sweet smell. An increase in severity of sweating is also something to note, such as if night sweats start occurring, or excessive sweating begins to happen during the day. Some people find it is nothing serious, and they just need to change to lighter clothing or a stronger deodorant, but it is a good idea to visit a doctor if it does not resolve itself shortly.

Excessive sweating may cause body odor.
Excessive sweating may cause body odor.

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Discussion Comments


@MikeMason-- I think body odor is mainly an issue for type one diabetics, when their diabetes is not under control.

Type one diabetics don't produce any insulin themselves and have to have insulin injections to break down food into energy. If a type one diabetic doesn't get enough insulin, the body starts breaking down fats for energy. This results in a waste material called ketones. If the amount of ketones in the body increase, it can create body odor that kind of smells like rotten fruit.

If your diabetes is under control though, you should not be experiencing this.


Can anyone explain to me how diabetes can cause body odor? I have diabetes so if there is any precaution that I can take about this, I would like to know.


Garlic and onion has to be the worst foods in terms of causing body odor. I avoid them altogether during the day and will only have them for dinner, that way I'm not interacting with anyone for a while. I dated someone for a while who loved spicy foods and foods with onion and garlic. But he wasn't aware that it gave him a bad body odor. It was such a turn-off.

I think it's hard for us to know that we smell bad, but it's very apparent and bothersome for people around us.

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