Everyone has body odor to one degree or another, such as the occasional smelly armpit, or bad breath in the morning. And usually, it's nothing to worry about. But if you happen to notice new or worsening smells take note as it may be a sign of inflammation — among other health concerns.
"New, strong, or persistent body odors are your body's way of warning you that something may be up with your health," Carolyn Dean, MD, ND health expert and author of The Complete Natural Medicine Guide to Women’s Health, tells Bustle.
And while there are several possible reasons for stronger body odor, inflammation — and the impact it has on the body — can be one of them. "Inflammation is the body’s immune system response to injury, irritation, or infection, which is a natural and healthy process," Dr. Dean says. "However, when inflammation is chronic, a constant flow of free radicals is generated which overwhelms our antioxidant defenses, damages our DNA [...] and causes chronic disease along with body odors."
Luckily, there are many ways to lower inflammation before it gets to this point, with some of the easiest being simple lifestyle changes. "Lowering inflammation naturally helps you to solve the problem from the root rather than just cover up the symptoms," Caleb Backe, a health and wellness expert at Maple Holistics, tells Bustle. Backe suggests eating anti-inflammatory foods like fatty fish and leafy greens, getting more sleep, and adding exercise into your routine. And of course, speaking with your doctor to make sure it's not something more serious.
With that in mind, here are a few body odors that may get stronger if you have inflammation, according to experts.
1. Bad Breath That Smells Sweet
It may not sound like a big deal to have breath that smells "sweet." But since it can be a side effect of diabetes, it's something that shouldn't be ignored.
"Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA), which can be life-threatening, is when ketones are produced too quickly and build up in the blood and urine due to glucose not being readily available in the cells as an energy source," Dr. Zarinah Hud, author of Everybody Has 15 Minutes: 15 Minute Meals to Your Pain Freedom, tells Bustle. "This metabolic event can be toxic by causing inflammation and increased acidity in the blood."
If you or someone else notices that your breath is "sweet," especially if you have a history of diabetes, let a doctor know.
2. Bad Breath That Smells Acrid
Most of the time, if you have bad breath, it's simply a sign you need to up your oral hygiene game — which is something that can be easily remedied with a trip to the dentist, more thorough brushing, and flossing.
But if your breath has a little extra something to it, such as a bad smell that's coming from the throat, take note. "An acrid smell on the breath may indicate a sore throat and or sinus infection (usually viral and most not needing any treatment)," emergency physician Jack Springer, MD, tells Bustle.
Infections or chronic inflammation in the nose, sinuses, and throat can cause bad breath, according to the Mayo Clinic. So if you have bad breath that doesn't go away, even after brushing, this may be why.
3. Extra Smelly Stool
Let's be honest... your poop is never going to smell great. And yet, there's a big difference between the usual stinky stool, and stool that smells positively horrible. (And yes, you will be able to tell the difference.)
"Stool that smells worse than usual could be a sign of inflammation in the digestive tract," Backe says. "This might be an indicator of conditions like Inflammatory Bowel Disease. This inflammation arises from malabsorption as your body isn’t absorbing the proper amount of nutrients from your food." And if you think this might be the case, it's best to check in with your doctor.
4. Foul Smelling Gas
There's also a difference between normal everyday gas, and the kind that smells noticeably worse. And inflammation in your gut could be one of the main culprits.
"People who have inflammation in their colon or an infection generally have poor gut bacteria," Dr. Dean says, which can lead to farts that are positively putrid.
What you eat plays a large role, here. "A [...] diet made up of processed foods, sugars, and carbohydrates can cause this as it promotes the growth of pathogenic microbes in the gut," Dr. Dean says. But disease could also be to blame, so let your doctor know if this symptom doesn't go away.
5. Smelly Gums
When you have sweet or acrid breath it's usually emanating up from your throat, which is why it can be an indication of other health issues going on internally.
But sometimes, bad breath comes straight from your mouth. This type of bad breath, known as halitosis, "is most commonly associated with food particles stuck and breaking down between teeth," board-certified dermatologist Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, FAAD, tells Bustle. And that can lead to inflammation, as well as gum disease.
According to WebMD, persistent bad breath may be a warning sign of gum (periodontal) disease, which is caused by this buildup of plaque on teeth. Basically, bacteria cause the formation of toxins to form, which irritate the gums, leading to inflammation.
6. Strong Vaginal Odor
When you have inflammation in the body, you might notice smells that are either fishy or sweet, but "[they] could be a signs of inflammation or infections coming from the vagina," Dr. Hud says.
If you notice a fishy or stronger smell in your vaginal area, along with symptoms such as itching, discharge, and pain, it may be a sign of vaginitis.
According to the Mayo Clinic, vaginitis is an inflammation of the vagina, and is usually caused by a change in the typical balance of vaginal bacteria or an infection. Types of vaginitis include bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections, trichomoniasis, or noninfectious vaginitis. If you notice these symptoms, make an appointment with your OB/GYN for treatment.
To get to the bottom of the cause of these odors, and to see if they have anything to do with inflammation, seeing a doctor will always be your best bet. It may be tough to talk to a doctor about odor, but they need to know, in order to get your health back on track.