Scientists may have identified the true culprit behind body odour (BO).
Working up a sweat triggers the release of a distinctly pungent aroma, with research previously suggesting a warm, moist armpit provides the perfect breeding ground for stink-producing bacteria.
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This may not tell the whole story, however: a team from the University of York believes an enzyme may also be to blame.
While many turn to antiperspirants in an attempt to control their BO, the scientists hope their discovery will lead to more specialised treatments for severe sufferers.
While most people experience BO at some point in their life, severe cases can affect self-esteem, prompting doctors to prescribe stronger antiperspirants or even surgery to remove the sweat glands.
“Solving the structure of this ‘BO enzyme’ has allowed us to pinpoint the molecular step inside certain bacteria that makes the odour molecules,” said study author Dr Michelle Rudden.
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“This is a key advancement in understanding how body odour works and will enable the development of targeted inhibitors that stop BO production at source without disrupting the armpit microbiome."
Armpits play host to a diverse community of bacteria that make up the skin’s microbiome.
The scientists found that only bacteria that contained the “BO enzyme” caused an unpleasant odour.
Results, published in the journal Scientific Reports, suggest this enzyme was around long before Homo sapiens evolved.
This implies BO may have played an important role in communication between ancestral primates, according to the scientists.
“This research was a real eye-opener,” said Dr Gordon James from Unilever, which collaborated on the study.
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“It was fascinating to discover a key odour-forming enzyme exists in only a select few armpit bacteria and evolved there tens of millions of years ago.”
People can ward off BO by washing problem areas – like armpits and feet – at least twice a day with soap and drying them thoroughly.
Shaving armpits regularly, washing clothes and wearing natural fabrics like cotton can also help.
It may also be wise to avoid alcohol, caffeine and spicy or smelly food.