Body odor is something we all struggle with, but some people fight it more than others. It's actually a surprisingly complex bit of biology, manifesting in a variety of different ways. Of course, it's unpleasant to smell foul odors on yourself, and it's even worse to be told that others can smell it on you even when you can't detect it. Bad body odor, bad breath, even bad bathroom smells are all potentially adjustable, but the question is, how?
The Source of Body Odor
If you're a frequent reader of this blog, you may have noticed that we like to dig a little bit into the science of a problem before we recommend (or avoid) a supplement. You all know where this is going, with the title involving chlorophyll, but be patient; we'll get to that.
First, let's talk about smells. Typically, when talking about foul odors, there are three sources the body produces.
- Body odor, pit stench, BO; the smell of your skin, particularly after sweating or being active all day.
- Bad breath; the smell of the inside of your mouth.
- Bathroom odors; the smell of, in particular, feces, but also urine.
All three of these are related to one tiny, tiny thing: bacteria. Yup, that's right; almost every foul scent the body can produce is the fault of bacteria.
Body odor is caused, not by sweat itself, but by the bacteria on your skin that feed on the sweat. Those bacteria are natural and healthy, they live on your skin and don't cause problems at all beyond the smell of the chemicals they produce as a byproduct of consuming sweat, namely, thioalcohol.
Why is body odor concentrated around your pits, then? It's because you have two different kinds of sweat glands. The glands all over your body, everywhere on your skin, are called eccrine glands. The sweat they produce is mostly water and, thus, mostly odorless. You also have apocrine glands, which produce a different kind of sweat, more filled lipids, and proteins. These are the ones the bacteria love to eat, and they are concentrated around hair follicles, mostly in the pits and in your nethers.
Bad breath? That's bacteria, once again. We all know about bacteria living in our mouths. Those bacteria play a role in helping to break down food, but they also eat sugars as fuel and excrete acids that break down your teeth. That's not all they excrete, though. They also excrete substances that harden into plaque, as well as substances that smell bad, hence, bad breath.
Finally, believe it or not, even poop stinks because of bacteria. Feces is the waste your body can't or won't process, and your body gets rid of it before it becomes a problem. Bacteria from your intestines go along for the ride, because, hey, to them it's a great source of food.
The trick is, the odor attached is part of an evolutionary system that makes your mind interpret it as foul, to keep you away from it. After all, if you spend too much time in or around feces, you're likely to get sick. So, your body developed a way to identify the gross stuff as unpleasant. It's quite interesting, though the specific mechanics aren't really relevant to our post today.
Suffice it to say that the root cause of the odor is, across the board, bacteria, though the specific species of bacteria varies from location to location.
Managing Foul Odors
There are a lot of different things you can do to attempt to minimize the foul odors your body gives off. We all do it, to varying degrees every day.
- Brush your teeth. Cleaning your mouth helps minimize the bacteria that produce bad breath, though they're impossible to completely eliminate.
- Wear deodorant. Deodorants work by killing off the bacteria on your skin, as well as reducing the amount of sweat you produce, to remove the food source for what bacteria remains. It's temporary because your skin is constantly refreshing itself, and because permanently removing your ability to sweat can cause health problems.
- Clean your skin. Bathing removes old sweat, removes dirt and grime that can carry other scents, removes some of the bacteria that produce the scents, and more.
However, that's not all you can do. Your diet actually plays a pretty significant role in managing the odors your body produces. Yes, even in sweat!
Red meat is a primary culprit. Eating a lot of red meat increases the stench you give off when you sweat. It's unclear exactly why – studies have observed the results, but not dug into the causes – but it's likely that consuming more proteins and fats causes an increase in your body getting rid of them through sweat.
Alcohol is another culprit. When your body digests alcohol, it produces acetic acid, also known as vinegar. It then has to dispose of that, and the most convenient way to get rid of it is through sweat. This is why people who consume a lot of alcohol tend to smell somewhat sour after the fact.
Alliums are another source; those pungent vegetables we eat such as onions, garlic, shallots, and others. These vegetables have a high sulfur content, and that sulfur – a bad-smelling mineral – is excreted in a variety of ways.
Other than adjusting your diet to cut back on the things that cause bad odors, and keeping yourself clean, brushing your teeth, and wearing deodorant, there may be other things you can do to reduce odors.
If you've researched chlorophyll before, you've probably seen it advertised as nature's deodorant. Indeed, one of the most widely recognized and broadly promoted benefits of chlorophyll is that it can reduce bodily odors as a sort of natural deodorant. The question is… is that true, or not?
Chlorophyll's reputation as a deodorizer comes from a study performed decades ago, specifically in patients with colostomy bags. For those who don't know, a colostomy is a surgical procedure that bypasses the colon, redirecting the end of the intestines to an artificial opening, where feces collects in a bag. This, for obvious reasons, can be a source of unpleasant odors. Many, many things have been tried to help reduce this, from upgrades in the technology used to create and seal the bags, to supplements like chlorophyll.
Indeed, a study performed ages ago found that chlorophyll supplements could reduce the odor of colostomy patients. That study, performed in the 1950s by Howard Westcott, forms the basis of modern chlorophyll deodorizing benefits.
As for how it works, well, that's not really well understood. Some people theorize that chlorophyll binds to the molecules that bacteria would otherwise use as food. Since the chlorophyll isn't broken down in your digestive system all that well, the molecule is trapped and excreted, free of bacterial exposure. The bacteria left with less to eat, don't produce as many odor-causing compounds. Thus, depriving the bacteria of food means fewer bad odors.
Additionally, chlorophyll – and more specifically, the vegetables that are high in chlorophyll – also form a great source of antioxidants and other beneficial compounds. A healthier body produces fewer bad odors. (This, again, goes back to evolution; you are tuned to view the sick as disgusting, so you instinctively stay away from them, to avoid getting sick yourself.)
Modern Chlorophyll Deodorant
Modern chlorophyll is not a topical deodorant the way your stick of Secret is. It's a supplement you take by eating or drinking. You have two options; to get your chlorophyll through large amounts of vegetables, or to get it through a dedicated supplement like chlorophyll water.
When you consume chlorophyll, especially in high doses, you are flooding your body with the molecule. As the theory goes, the chlorophyll binds to the compounds that would feed bacteria and cause bad odors.
The trick is, this doesn't work for bad breath. Chlorophyll doesn't linger in your mouth unless you're using it as a mouthwash, which most people are not. You can try it and see how it goes, but honestly, brushing your teeth or eating a mint might be the better option there.
However, chlorophyll working its way through your digestive system would extract and bind those compounds and prevent them from being excreted through your sweat or your bowels. You won't be able to completely eliminate the odors, but you can reduce them, potentially dramatically.
The good news is, chlorophyll is readily available. You can get it through any green vegetable, though the darker the green, the more you get. You can get it through algae, including spirulina or chlorella, both of which are common green supplements. You can also get it directly as an isolated supplement, as in our chlorophyll water (linked above).
A Word of Warning
Chlorophyll isn't dangerous to consume. Some people might experience stomach aches if they take too much of it, and it can color your bowel movements a dark blue/green/black color that can be worrying the first few times you see it, but otherwise, it's generally safe.
The trick is, it may or may not work. See, this is where the science can get a little murky at times. That study from the 1950s might have found that chlorophyll can deodorize the body, is so old that it's difficult to find it to analyze it directly.
Surely, though, modern science has replicated the study, correct? Well, yes and no. A lot of modern studies have been performed on the effects of chlorophyll. There's some good news and some bad news.
First, the good: chlorophyll has a lot of potential benefits. It can bolster the immune system, it works as an antifungal and antimicrobial molecule in the body, it helps detoxify the blood, it can help clean the intestines, it can give you energy, and it may even help prevent certain kinds of cancer. That's a lot!
As for deodorizing, well, the results are a little unclear. Additional studies are needed to come to a more scientifically proven conclusion.
The Real Truth
Can chlorophyll help deodorize your body? Well, yes and no.
It's unclear whether or not chlorophyll can actually deodorize you directly. Is it possible? Sure! More study needs to be done in more rigorous settings to determine one way or the other, but some experimentation is promising.
The truth is a little more nuanced, however. Specifically, you might recognize that chlorophyll is primarily found in either vegetables or a liquid supplement. How do you take those? You either eat vegetables, or you drink the supplement. Sounds obvious, right?
Well, when you eat vegetables, you're filling yourself up, which means you're not likely to be eating as much red meat or processed foods. Likewise, when you drink the supplement, you're probably doing it in place of sugary sodas or alcohol. Sure, you may have a deodorant effect, but how much of that is the fact that you took in more chlorophyll, and how much is that you took in less odor-causing compounds?
Again, it's difficult to say.
One thing is clear, though: chlorophyll is good for you, and has so few side effects that there's virtually no reason not to boost your intake. So, go hog wild! Drink a chlorophyll supplement daily. Increase your intake of green vegetables and mate/matcha teas. If nothing else, you'll be loading your body up with beneficial phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals, and there's no way that's a bad thing.
Chlorophyll may very well be able to reduce bodily odors across the board, particularly when used as a mouthwash and a dietary supplement. However, odors are quite subjective and even partially cultural, so your results may vary. Still, it's worth giving a shot, so why not?
Have you ever attempted taking chlorophyll for potential body odor or bad breath? What were your thoughts on the experience? Did it work the way you hoped it would? Be sure to leave us a comment down below in the comments section to tell us all your stories! We'd love to hear them!