A pile of stinking fish

Body Odor: Recent Research Shows it Can be a Serious Problem

Recent medical research has shown that some people with body odor (B.O.) suffer from severe problems in their personal and social relationships, as well as wrecked promotion prospects at work, educational under-achievement because of teasing and bullying along with enormous degrees of stress which is blamed for their frequent progression into alcoholism, excessive tobacco or drug use and in some cases to suicide.

Feelings of shame, embarrassment, low self-esteem, isolation, frustration, anxiety and depression are extremely common where B.O. is present.

Although sufferers and their families have been shown to gain considerable benefit from sympathetic counseling, and while learning to deal with the stress this condition causes is certainly important – long-term strategies and approaches which deal with underlying causes of increased body odor are probably a lot more important.

Certainly the answer does not lie in antiperspirant and deodorant sprays which at best only mask the problem, although safe forms of these might well prove useful in the short-term – as long as they are not adding to the person’s problem – for example by increasing exposure to and absorption of aluminum – now implicated in Alzheimer’s disease.

Many Causes

The reason why some people smell offensively can have various causes – some easily remedied others not – and it is these which need to be dealt with:

  • When B.O. is simply a result of inadequate bathing (and/or cleaning/washing of clothes) the solutions are equally simple – better hygiene, regular bathing/showering as well as the regular washing of clothes – which should ideally always be of natural fibre such as cotton.
  • Much B.O. is caused by skin bacterial activity on sweat which has dried on the skin – and this makes people who sweat excessively more likely to be affected. In some people (the excitable ‘greyhound/racehorse’ types) the sympathetic aspect of the nervous system is dominant and they tend to sweat more, whereas in others (the calmer ‘bulldog/carthorse’ type) the parasympathetic aspect dominates and they tend to stay calmer. So keeping stress levels low is important for people who sweat a lot.
  • Tactics such as learning relaxation methods and stress coping techniques along with improved nutritional balance, all help to reduce this tendency.
  • In women menstruation and stress often dramatically increases the degree of body odor experienced and careful attention to personal hygiene and dietary excellence is called for.
  • The efficiency or otherwise of our internal detoxification processes are commonly affected by nutrient imbalances – for example the micro-element zinc has been reported by Professor Derek Bryce-Smith, of Reading University, England, as being deficient in people with body odor.
  • A thorough review of nutritional status of anyone with B.O. should be undertaken by a suitable professional nutritional adviser.
  • B.O. is sometimes associated with specific health problems including liver dysfunction, diabetes, digestive problems (parasites etc) and yeast infections and these conditions require professional attention and advice.
  • Some people with systemic yeast conditions (Candida) carry a ‘beer’ smell – since yeast can turn sugar into alcohol in their body’s very rapidly. Fortunately safe natural anti-yeast dietary and herbal methods exist which can bring such conditions under control.
  • Medical tests at Imperial College in London2 has shown that some people with B.O. have imbalances affecting the ‘friendly bacteria’ which live inside all of our digestive systems. If these vital micro-organisms are unbalanced through use of medication (antibiotics and steroids in particular) or a high fat, high sugar, high red-meat, low fibre diet the vital role they play in detoxification of the bowel and in manufacturing important nutrients is impaired and this can lead to aggravation of B.O., as well as to numerous other health problems.
  • In such cases ‘repopulation’ of the intestines with healthy friendly bacteria as well as regular short detoxification efforts can be extremely are helpful in both helping to help normalize intestinal flora and to remove toxic debris from the system.

Anyone with B.O. – of any type – should supplement daily with good quality Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacteria in order to boost their intestinal flora quality.

In addition detoxification via a one day juice or water or fruit only day, two or three times a month (all day Saturday for example) is a useful strategy (but not for people on prescription medication, diabetics or people with eating disorders without supervision by a qualified health care professional).

A balanced diet is also called for if B.O. is a problem, ideally one in which 20% of the diet comes from protein (fish, poultry or vegetarian combinations of pulses and grains), 20% of the diet can come from oils and fats (avoiding animal fats as much as possible) with the balance from vegetables, fruit, pulses and grains.

This should be supported by a daily high potency multivitamin /multi-mineral supplement.

  • Some people (about 7% of people complaining of body odor) do not completely digest particular foods because of in-born enzyme deficiencies, or due to acquired digestive problems, and this leads to a body odor in which a strong ‘fishy’ smell is noted -especially around period time (or when the contraceptive pill is being used). The substance which causes this smell is called trimethylamine.2

Dietary changes – particularly reducing foods rich in the amino acids carnitine and lysine and more importantly foods rich in lecithin and choline – can reduce the intensity of the problem in these severe cases.

Researchers emphasize that apart from diet this form of B.O. will be aggravated during menstruation, when there is a fever or when the person is under stress.

When B.O. has this fish-like smell increased care is needed over food selection because studies in London2 have shown that diet irritates this usually inherited condition.

Foods rich in the amino acid carnitine are known to leave residues in the intestines which have to be worked on by the natural flora (friendly bacteria). If very specific enzymes (known as flavin monooxygenases) which break the residues down to an odorless state ready for excretion are in poor supply or are missing (or if the bowel flora are disturbed) the characteristic fish-like odor appears.

For people with this particular ‘fish odor’ form of B.O. the following foods which are rich in lecithin or choline or carnitine/lysine should be avoided or kept to a small part of the daily diet.

These include:

  • Chocolate, peanuts, nuts, raisins, cereals. (carnitine/lysine)
    Eggs, soya products, corn, wheatgerm. (choline/lecithin)

Instead of these there needs to be greater emphasis on eating vegetables, rice and fruit – with fish or poultry as protein sources for non-vegetarians.

Although true ‘Fish Odor Syndrome’ is probably the worst sort of B.O. – it fortunately affects a relatively small number of people – and the strategies outlined above can usually deal with its worst aspects.


  • Bryce-Smith D Hodgkinson L The Zinc Solution Century Arrow 1986
  • Ayesh R et al The Fish Odour Syndrome : Biochemical, familial and clinical aspects. British Medical Journal 1993;307pp655-657
  • 3. Chaitow L Trenev N PROBIOTICS HarperSanFrancisco 1990
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Written by Leon Chaitow ND DO MRO

Explore Wellness in 2021