Body Odor Changes: What It Says About Your Health   

Body Odor Changes: What It Says About Your Health

Woman in a towel, smelling her armpit, observing body odor.
Clinical Contributors to this story:
Xue Ao, M.D.

We often think of body odor as an aesthetic problem, but did you know it can tell you a lot about your overall health? Changes in the smell of our sweat and other bodily odors usually indicate that something is off. By being aware of changes to our natural smells, we can catch potential health issues before they become serious problems.

What Can Cause a Change in Body Odor? 

Your surroundings, what you eat, medications you take, changes in hormone levels or underlying conditions can cause a change in your body odor.

“Many of these causes are completely natural and occur without your doing,” says internal medicine specialist, Xue Ao, M.D. “However, it’s important to monitor any sudden changes and talk with your doctor if you are concerned, especially if you notice that the odor is paired with another symptom like a rash, discharge or discoloration.”

  1. Puberty

Puberty and body odor are like peanut butter and jelly – likely found together. During puberty, hormones and sweat glands are more active and may increase sweat and body odor.

  1. Diet

Your diet may occasionally result in a momentary shift in how you smell. Food can cause gas, which leads to repeated spouts of flatulence. Some also notice urine odor after consuming certain foods. Unless you frequently consume the food, the smell will fade away after it’s digested.

Common foods that cause gas and body odor are:

  • Cabbage
  • Asparagus
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Beans

If you’re consuming food you’re intolerant to, you may notice a strong odor in your bowel movements due to difficult digestion.

  1. Excessive Sweating 

Sweat can cause body odor from the armpits, feet and genitals. Reasons for excessive sweating are might include:

  • Stress and anxiety
  • Frequent exercise
  • Hyperhidrosis disorder, which causes a person to sweat uncontrollably without an apparent reason
  1. Underlying Health Conditions 

Body odor and sweat are common symptoms of many health conditions, both temporary and chronic. If you are concerned about your body odor or sweat, talk with your doctor.

Some temporary health conditions that result in an unwanted body odor are:

  • Athlete’s foot
  • Infections (yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, trichomoniasis, ear infections, skin infections, pneumonia, tuberculosis and urinary tract infections)
  • Vitamin deficiencies
  • Menstruation
  • Menopause
  • Pregnancy
  • Intestinal obstructions

Long-term causes of body odor are:

  • Diabetes (if you have diabetes and notice a fruity smell from your breath, seek immediate medical attention)
  • Hyperhidrosis disorder, which causes a person to sweat uncontrollably without an apparent reason
  • Cancer (from infected cancer-related wounds)
  • Uremia, a condition involving abnormally high levels of waste products in the blood

When to See a Doctor 

While body odor is natural and isn’t always a cause for concern, certain matters require medical treatment. Seek professional medical advice if you are experiencing the following paired with body odor:

  • Signs of infection
  • Signs of toxin poisoning
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Pain or bleeding

Next Steps & Resources:

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.


Subscribe to get the latest health tips from our expert clinicians delivered weekly to your inbox.

We use cookies to improve your experience. Please read our Privacy Policy or click Accept.