Why does my sweat smell like vinegar?

Perspiration is a normal physiological process and is essential for a healthy human body. Through sweat the body gets rid of certain toxic or waste material. Sweat is always accompanied with a slight to strong smell depending on the body type and other physiological factors. A stronger smell like vinegar or onion can be quite embarrassing. However, sweat is free of odor by nature. It is the bacteria that cover the surface of the skin to break the sweat.

Once the bacteria breaks down the sweat, it produces different compounds and odor. The two common acid compounds related with odor include the Propionic acid – (vinegar like smell) and Isovaleric acid (smell of cheese). There are also two types of sweat glands in the human body which further generates two different kinds of sweat i.e. Eccrine and Apocrine.  Eccrine is commonly found in most of the parts of the body, and is also responsible for cooling down the body. Compared to the Apocrine, they are much smaller. The gland is mainly made up of water and secretes the sweat directly onto the skin. Apocrine on the other hand is found mainly under body parts such as the groin, areola and armpits. It’s also found near the eyelids, and the sweat it produces is thicker with a lot of bacteria that feeds on it. Apocrine is prominent till puberty.

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Primary reasons of vinegar-like sweat odor

One of the most common reasons for the vinegar like smell of sweat is lack of proper personal hygiene. People who don’t take regular baths smell more than other. The odor producing bacteria increases if the waste isn’t regularly cleaned from the external skin as the body odor is a direct response of the odor compounds generated by sweat and the external skin.

armpits sweat smells like vinegar

Another factor that affects the kind of smell one’s sweat produces is the kind of food the person consumes. Some people smell bad even after taking regular body washes. People who consume a protein rich diet may have more offensive sweat odor. Sulfur rich foods and some organic compounds have a very strong odor and that gets released from the body after the breakdown of food.  Some foods associated with vinegar like body odor are dairy and poultry items, red meat, seafood, excessive use of garlic and onions. Cabbage, cauliflower and some spices like mustard seed and coriander.

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Apart from personal hygiene and diet, diabetes is a common factor making the sweat smell like vinegar. The excessive amount of sugar in the body generates the acidic compounds once the sugar breaks down. The compounds have a similar odor to that of the vinegar. Smelly sweat isn’t something that cannot be taken care of. In fact, increasing the amount of water intake helps treat this problem to a great extent due to its natural detoxifying properties. The toxins flush out easily through the urine.  Keeping the body clean is also a convenient solution. You can also take a shower twice a day and use good quality or medicated soaps for a better effect. Eliminating protein content from the diet may also prove to be useful.
Some other causes are as follows:

  1. Medication: A lot of people on antibiotics and supplements complaint of a smelly odor. Drugs like Antipsychotics and antidepressants can cause this. Overuse of OTC drugs like Tylenol, advil, aspirin and acetaminophen can also give a smelly odor.
  2. Hormonal Changes: Women in menopause often relate to the problem. They also experience hot flashes causing increased perspiration.
  3. Hypogonadism is a rare cause where the testosterone level among males is abnormally low.
  4. Genetics also play an important role in determining how a person smells.   For example East Asians have fewer apocrine sweat glands which make them less vulnerable to body odor.

Why some people are more vulnerable to vinegar like sweat odor?

The real problem is the microbes and chemicals. Most of it is aggravated by the pungent foods especially when the liver cannot eliminate or detoxify those products. In case of the microbes one can change their skin’s flora by taming the bacteria responsible for the body odor. In some people it is higher due to the following reasons:

  1. Malabsorption causing fermentation of carbs
  2. Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth
  3. Excessive intake of Antibiotics
  4. Drinking chlorinated water
  5. Diabetes
  6. Allergies to some food items
  7. Stomach problems like Diarrhea and constipation

Treatment and prevention

  • Maintaining a good Hygiene. Taking showers twice a day and using medicated soaps or gels.
  • Using deodorants and antiperspirants
  • Chlorophyllin supplements
  • Increasing water intake and eliminating protein and sulphur rich food from the diet.
  • Having a balanced diet.
  • Strengthening the immune system to fight pathogens and control body odor.Having more Fermented foods and probiotics. Avoiding things that contain chemicals, alcohol and sugar.
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