MadSci Network: Microbiology

Re: why does some people have body odour & what microorganisms causes it?

Date: Mon Apr 5 18:29:35 1999
Posted By: Chris Yost, PhD Microbiology
Area of science: Microbiology
ID: 920892592.Mi

What a great question!

Body odour is related to bacteria associated with the sweat glands. 
Bacterial growth around these sweat glands results in production of body 
odour. The apocrine glands, found mainly in the underarm and genital 
regions, are most commonly associated with body odour. Bacterial 
populations in these warm humid areas is relatively high. The bacteria that 
are commonly found in this environment are: micrococci, staphylococci, 
aerobic and anaerobic coryneforms as well as pityrosporum species (to find 
specific information about some of these species  click here or consult The 
Bergy’s Manual of Determinative Bacteriology). 

How do bacteria cause odour? The groups of bacteria listed above metabolise 
compounds found in our sweat and certain resulting by-products (mainly 
volatile fatty acids) are odour causing. Anyone with active apocrine 
glands, (apocrine glands become active during puberty) will have some 
degree of body odour. People who produce a lot of sweat will have higher 
levels of bacterial growth and hence more body odour. Therefore body odour 
is directly related to the amount a person perspires. 

Does the composition of bacterial populations vary depending on human 
populations? Individual species and strains of bacterial will vary greatly 
amongst individuals, however the genera and general types of bacteria (i.e. 
micrococci, staphylococci, aerobic and anaerobic coryneforms) will remain 
the same. I could not find research documenting differences in the 
microbial populations living on the skin of Asians vs. North American 
individuals. It is an interesting question, though. Research I did find 
indicates differences in body odour from different human populations may be 
the result of differences in diets. Research has shown that diet will 
affect body odour. This is likely due to compounds found in the sweat that 
are produced as a result of the individuals diet. These compounds may be 
metabolised by bacteria to produce unique or strong odours that are not 
found in people with different eating habits. Some components of diet that 
can relate to body odour are: garlic, onion, spicy foods, curry, or 
alcohol. Therefore differences in body odour amongst human populations may 
be due to differences in microbial populations and can be related to 
differences in diets.

I have listed a reference to an article that I believe may help answer your 
question in greater detail and should provide you with additional 
references. You may also want to search the scientific literature using  
PubMed . Try using key words such as body odour and bacteria in 
the same search.

Hope this helps answer your question, you certainly asked an interesting 


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