body odor

We’ve all been there: nonchalantly giving our pits a whiff after a workout or a stressful day. Could it be … me?

The good news is that if you were born with a specific gene, ABCC11, you will never stink (hooray!). The bad news: The gene is prevalent in East Asia, but rare in America. So how can the rest of us keep dreaded body odor at bay—and, what if we want to do it naturally?

The culprits of body odor

We all know when we have it, but how often do we think about what causes it? Sweat is the short answer—but not the complete one. At the most basic level, the mixing of sweat and bacteria causes odor, but it’s a lot more complicated than that.

Each of us has a unique odor, determined by a range of factors. And the folks who study this stuff (yep, there are people who study stench and sweat; most often they’re called organic chemists) have dug deeper to learn more about how odors can indicate deeper health issues. Sometimes how a person smells can be linked to rare conditions, such as TMAU (or trimethylaminuria), according to George Preti, PhD, an organic chemist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center. Other more common health concerns, such as diabetes and liver and kidney disorders, can also alter body and mouth odor when they are advanced or unregulated, Preti says.

Other times, it can relate to lifestyle, according to experts, who say that simple tweaks can also make a difference—and that includes assessing the foods you eat. Some preliminary evidence suggests diets heavy in certain foods, including sulfur- containing cruciferous veggies and red meat, may trigger foul smells. A low-carb diet may also be a concern, because when your body has fewer carbs to burn for energy, it burns fat, which can affect your odor.