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  1. #1
    dpak's Avatar
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    Default Factors that affect body odor– science only, please!

    There was a recent thread that touched upon race. A few people said that different races have different smells. This raised my eyebrows since I had thought this belief had been rejected as scientifically invalid and possibly racist. Now, I am not accusing anyone of being racist and in no way did the posts even suggest racist motives. Being of the mind that I am, I wondered if there was any science out there that supports the idea of different odors for different races. I also wondered if this concept had been rejected due to the history of some people proposing it for racist motives and not due to any available science.

    After spending some hours searching various sites – New York Times, pubmed, most prominently – and googling the heck of out numerous keywords, I came up with surprisingly little. Based on what I’ve found, I feel confident in saying: genetics probably plays some role in the odors individuals emit; different races could possibly maybe smell different, but I have no idea; genetics do play some role in how individuals perceive odors; diet and cultural practices can affect an individual’s odor; cultural upbringing can affect how some odors are perceived. (Please notice the copious use of modifiers.)

    Below you will find the relevant articles and studies that I’ve found.

    If you want to play along, please keep this in mind: I’m not interested in your opinion on whether different races have different odors. I don’t care if your black roommate smells different from your white roommate, or your if your Greek friend smells better than your Danish friend – that isn’t science. Post links to scientific studies or links to articles on legitimate and respected news sites that reference scientific studies. And please, keep things impersonal.

    So, here comes the research!

    Japanese Scientists Identify Ear Wax Gene (link goes to a New York Times story)
    This one deals with wet and dry ear wax. Dry ear wax is found predominantly in Han Chinese (the main ethnic group in China) and Koreans, and also common in Native Americans. Ear wax is determined by a single gene and, according to the authors, “earwax type and armpit odor are correlated.” People with dry ear wax sweat less and theoretically have less odor (though not all sweat has an odor). This seems to be speculation on the authors’ part (they only studied earwax), and the study says nothing about whether the odors of dry earwax people would be different from wet earwax people. Chalk this one up as “possible ethnic differences, but needs more research.”
    Here’s the original study:
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1...ubmed_RVDocSum

    I have found references to the book Aroma: The Cultural History of Smell by Constance Classen, David Howes & Anthony Synnott that suggest that the authors dismiss the question of racial odors as being socially constructed. If you have the book, the relevant pages would start at p165. I’m assuming (or hoping) that they would cite their sources for such a statement.

    Aside from fleeting references dismissing the concept of racial odors, I have found no other articles or studies. If you can find any, please post.

    Individual and gender fingerprints in human body odour
    This study found that individuals have certain components of body odor that remain consistent over time – much like a fingerprint. It seems reasonable to expect genetics to play a role in this, but whether or not the components are correlated to race or ethnicity is anyone’s guess.

    Genetic variation in a human odorant receptor alters odour perception
    This one shows how a genetic variation in odor receptors can result in differences in smell. “For instance, androstenone (5alpha-androst-16-en-3-one), an odorous steroid derived from testosterone, is variously perceived by different individuals as offensive ("sweaty, urinous"), pleasant ("sweet, floral") or odourless.” It doesn’t saying anything about who was tested and whether the variations are linked to certain ethnicities. Perhaps this is why some people love Kouros and others don’t.

    The effect of meat consumption on body odor attractiveness
    Here’s one reason to go easy on the meat. This study found that the odors of men on a “nonmeat diet was judged as significantly more attractive, more pleasant, and less intense” than those on a meat diet. Of course, there are other foods that affect odor, such as garlic, so let’s not turn this into an argument over the merits of one diet over another. Me? I’m sticking with Twinkies and beer.

    Elephants Classify Human Ethnic Groups by Odor and Garment Color
    The link goes to an article in Science Daily about how elephants can distinguish between two different ethnic groups – one of which has a history of hunting elephants while the other does not. According to the researchers (found in the full study, below), “As well as possible differences in pheromonal profile, the diets of Maasai and Kamba peoples differ strikingly. Maasai consume substantial amounts of milk and occasionally cattle blood and meat, whereas Kamba diet mainly comprises meat, vegetables and maize meal. These dietary differences might be reflected in the chemical composition of body odor. Furthermore, the Maasai are pastoralists, so odors of cattle permeate their villages, and they use ochre and sheep fat in body decoration, unlike the agricultural Kamba.” To me, this points to cultural practices and not genetic differences.
    Here’s the full study:
    http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/psychology/people/personal/rwb/publications/2007%20Bates%20et%20al%20maasai%20CB.pdf

    Color Coded
    I hesitated to include this since it’s not science. It’s a Chandler Burr article in the New York Times about how cultural tastes affect fragrance sells. It seems reasonable to expect people would like odors that they were exposed to since birth. If someone could bottle the odor of fried catfish, I’d wear it everyday .

    Pleasant odors perceived the same by different cultures
    Finally, something suggesting similarity. From the article: "Our findings show that the way we perceive smells is at least partially hard-wired in the brain," Sobel said. "Although there is a certain amount of flexibility, and our life experience certainly influences our perception of smell, a large part of our sense of whether an odor is pleasant or unpleasant is due to a real order in the physical world.”


    Well, that’s probably more than enough for now. Any other studies that you know of?
    Last edited by dpak; 1st April 2008 at 05:11 PM. Reason: spelling

  2. #2

    Default Re: Factors that affect body odor– science only, please!

    A deficiency of the mineral zinc can cause body odor. Google it.

  3. #3

    Default Re: Factors that affect body odor– science only, please!

    I assume you are also looking at factors that affect the longevity, sillage and other fragrance wearing issues as well, otherwise this discussion probably belongs on the off topic board. This is largely dictated by PH of the skin and the factors that affect body odor probably affect the PH as well.

  4. #4

    Default Re: Factors that affect body odor– science only, please!

    I don´t find anything racist in the fact that particular races REALLY smell different - in no way bad but different. As many times I was close to African/ Hispanic/ Chinese people, I could definitely smell their body odor that was NOT UNPLEASANT but other. You can do anything but accept it, this is not about racism. And as such, when various races /skin colors combine with scent, the result is different.
    Last edited by Alicka61; 1st April 2008 at 04:43 PM. Reason: completed

  5. #5

    Default Re: Factors that affect body odor– science only, please!

    Also diet will affect body odor.

    I always thought many of my Chinese and Asian classmates had an odd odor. It took me years to find out it was the Durian sweets/lollies they were sucking that caused it. Not quite as bad as people who love eating garlic, but worse than eating garlic if you actually put one of those lollies or the actual Durian fruit in your mouth.

    Renato

  6. #6
    dpak's Avatar
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    Default Re: Factors that affect body odor– science only, please!

    Quote Originally Posted by Alicka61 View Post
    I don´t find anything racist in the fact that particular races REALLY smell different - in no way bad but different. As many times I was close to African/ Hispanic/ Chinese people, I could definitely smell their body odor that was NOT UNPLEASANT but other. You can do anything but accept it, this is not about racism. And as such, when various races /skin colors combine with scent, the result is different.
    I never said it was racist and did not mean to imply that is was - only that the belief has been linked to some people with racist agendas. The belief that race affects odor is not inherently racist and could be based on scientific fact. There are lots of factors that affect body odor but again, I have not been able to find in scientific evidence linking odor to race. - linking odor to diet and cultural practices, yes, but not exclusively to one's race. And that's what I'm looking for - scientific evidence, not anecdotes.

  7. #7

    Default Re: Factors that affect body odor– science only, please!

    Racism? Got nothing to do with it, man!

    LOL, this reminds me of the time a friend gave me a almost full bottle Fahrenheit once, stating he smells way to black to be wearing that kind of stuff.
    --------------------------------------
    Quote Originally Posted by dpak View Post
    And that's what I'm looking for - scientific evidence, not anecdotes.
    I'm afraid you won't find any, simply because of the fact that it's considered 'not done'.
    Last edited by Domingo; 1st April 2008 at 05:18 PM. Reason: Automerged Doublepost

  8. #8

    Default Re: Factors that affect body odor– science only, please!

    The factors that touch on "race" are probably more attributed to cultures than races. When my dad was in Vietnam during the war, he was a Long Range Recon officer and he had standing orders that his soldiers were not to wear aftershave, use soap or deoderant, no smoking on patrol, and they indulged themselves in the local food, esp stuff doused in Nuoc Mam which is a popular fish sauce. you really can smell that stuff from a distance if you are not accustomed to it.

    My grandfather served in Korea and he brought me up on Kimchi. All of my friends could smell it on me the next day.

    Moroccan Harissa, same thing.

    Every culture has it's spice and flavors and if you aren't used to it, it reeks.
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  9. #9

    Default Re: Factors that affect body odor– science only, please!

    This brings to mind the phrase "stinking drunk".

    The toxins and whatnot created and excreted by a body trying to process unusually high amounts of alchohol definitely emits a nasty odor...thus the term! What we put into our body comes out in many ways!

  10. #10

    Default Re: Factors that affect body odor– science only, please!

    Quote Originally Posted by thaifighter View Post

    My grandfather served in Korea and he brought me up on Kimchi. All of my friends could smell it on me the next day.
    That stuff is wicked! Wrecks havoc on your body odor, let alone your breath...

  11. #11

    Default Re: Factors that affect body odor– science only, please!

    What you eat effects your body odor. Garlic, Cumin (as in Curry), and Valerian comes through your pores. I believe red meat and asparagus have a similar effect.
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  12. #12

    Default Re: Factors that affect body odor– science only, please!

    Garlic and onion both contain significant amounts of allicin, and this is definitively a factor in one's body odor (breath, sweat, feces, even -- supposedly -- semen). Strangely enough, though, significant consumptions of either are not considered negative when everyone in a particular society or family or social group eats large amounts of allicin. (Trust me -- garlic breath is not considered a bad thing in China, Italy, Korea or even France). I eat 4 to 5 cloves of raw garlic a day, and am convinced that garlic's allicin breath effect is far outweighed by garlic's positive effects. (It's an astringent for the bowels; it's full of minerals; allicin's great for the blood vessels/heart/circulation etc.)

    Same is true of cumin and turmeric -- their incredible anti-oxidative health benefits far outweigh any minor breath concerns for me. Be forewarned, though -- large amounts of cumin and turmeric in your diet WILL affect your sweat, rendering it very "curry like." (Think Rive Gauche.) I actually find this kind of pleasant, though, at least in comparison to the sweat of a major carnivore.

    Red meat makes a definite impact on b.o., rendering it much more animalic and "dirty" smelling. It (red meat) has the same impact on feces and mouth odors (most of which are really gut odors -- sorry, but this is true.) Lamb and beef and pork cause more odors than poultry and fish. Don't know if you've ever noticed, but pescetarians, vegetarians (ovo-lacto) and vegans have significantly milder body odors than carnivores who eat a lot of red meat.

    Butter and cream and whole milk are full of butyric acid, and they have an even larger impact on b.o. than red meats. Only low fat, probiotic yogurt stands out among most dairy products as being low in butyric acid.
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  13. #13

    Default Re: Factors that affect body odor– science only, please!

    A few years back someone told me to consume a few spoonfuls of flax seed oil a day.

    Around that same time I noticed my pillow started smelling a little weird. You know the smell of costus root? It smells like unwashed hair, and is kind of sexy in small doses-- well, my pillow smelled like costus root and ashtrays. It was irritating. The flax seed oil was coming out of the pores on my scalp as I slept. It was baffling because I even washed my hair before bed and it still happened.

    I stopped taking flax seed oil and the problem went away.
    Last edited by Indie_Guy; 1st April 2008 at 08:48 PM.

  14. #14
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    Default Re: Factors that affect body odor– science only, please!

    Diet probably affects 99% of how you stink and possibly how you smell (sense other odors). Things as simple as drinking too much coffee, eating too much sugar, eating too much seafood, or the other things noted above all have an effect.

    Perspiration is not only part of the body's cooling system, it's part of the body's waste system. So, what goes in has an effect on what comes out.
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  15. #15

    Default Re: Factors that affect body odor– science only, please!

    Quote Originally Posted by Indie_Guy View Post
    A few years back someone told me to consume a few spoonfuls of flax seed oil a day.

    Around that same time I noticed my pillow started smelling a little weird. You know the smell of costus root? It smells like unwashed hair, and is kind of sexy in small doses-- well, my pillow smelled like costus root and ashtrays. It was irritating. The flax seed oil was coming out of the pores on my scalp as I slept. It was baffling because I even washed my hair before bed and it still happened.

    I stopped taking flax seed oil and the problem went away.
    What you describe is the smell that comes from eating rancid oils. Especially flaxseed oil becomes rancid real quickly (in fact within a couple of days after the bottle is opened), even when you refrigerate it. I'm quite sure that this might have been the course of your problem.

    Good you stopped taking it, because rancid oil like that does more damage than good for your body.

    If you want to take flaxseed, it's best to buy the whole seeds and grind them yourself in an old coffee grinder, no more than you use in a week at the time, and store that in a container in the fridge. The rest of the seeds you should keep in the freezer 'till you need to grind your next batch. You will notice that you won't get any strange body odor this way.
    Last edited by Domingo; 1st April 2008 at 10:28 PM.

  16. #16

    Default Re: Factors that affect body odor– science only, please!

    I think diet and culture are the main things. Id comment more on culture but I dont want to be perceived as a racist. I've also noticed vegitarians tend to be a bit less 'pleasant smelling.'

    In regards to diet, my partners been on a detox diet the last week with only fruit, vegetables etc, and lets just say shes not as 'fragrant' as usual. Last night all I could smell was soemthing 'cabbage-like' coming from every pore and on her breath :|
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  17. #17

    Default Re: Factors that affect body odor– science only, please!

    Yes,I think that diet and habits of hygiene are much much much more important then color/race.

    .
    Last edited by LuciusVorenus; 2nd April 2008 at 01:28 AM.

  18. #18
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    Default Re: Factors that affect body odor– science only, please!

    Male Body Odor Can Stink Like Urine Or Have A Pleasant Vanilla Smell, Depending On One Gene:

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases...0916143523.htm
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  19. #19

    Default Re: Factors that affect body odor– science only, please!

    You misunderstood the results of the research. What they are telling is that people PERCEIVE the body odor as bad, nice or don't perceive it, depending on one gene. The smell of sweat is the SAME. What happens is that different people perceive the same smell in different ways.


    Quote Originally Posted by kbe View Post
    Male Body Odor Can Stink Like Urine Or Have A Pleasant Vanilla Smell, Depending On One Gene:

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases...0916143523.htm
    Last edited by LuciusVorenus; 2nd April 2008 at 01:49 AM.

  20. #20
    DON'T DRINK AND DRESS

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    Default Re: Factors that affect body odor– science only, please!

    Quote Originally Posted by LuciusVorenus View Post
    You misunderstood the results of the research. What they are telling is that people PERCEIVE the body odor as bad, nice or don't perceive it, depending on one gene. The smell of sweat is the SAME. What happens is that different people perceive the same smell in different ways.

    On the contrary LV, you misunderstood the heading to be my own personal view of the results of the study, which may or may not be the case. If you note the ScienceDaily article the heading of my post is an accurate copy of the heading on the article itself, as posted on the ScienceDaily site, and not necessarily, but certainly could be, my opinion of what the study is about.

    And then again, any smell could be perceived as either 'good' or 'bad' by different people, the smell itself being presented as the identical mix of olfactory chemicals to both. Unlikely as it may be, to one woman a rose smell may be quite pleasant while to another it might remind her of old sox, the heading of the ScienceDaily article being quite accurate in general, based on the study.
    Last edited by kbe; 4th April 2008 at 12:21 AM.
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  21. #21

    Default Re: Factors that affect body odor– science only, please!

    I'm glad that you did understand what the research was about. But don't you think I did the right thing, explaining it to you and the other basenoters? The heading of that article was misleading.

    Lucius

    .

  22. #22
    dpak's Avatar
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    Default Re: Factors that affect body odor– science only, please!

    Quote Originally Posted by LuciusVorenus View Post
    I'm glad that you did understand what the research was about. But don't you think I did the right thing, explaining it to you and the other basenoters? The heading of that article was misleading.

    Lucius

    .
    Can you people not read? The title of the study is "Genetic variation in a human odorant receptor alters odour perception." It's in the original post and it's all about perception.

  23. #23

    Default Re: Factors that affect body odor– science only, please!

    Are you saying that KBE lied?


    Quote Originally Posted by dpak View Post
    Can you people not read? The title of the study is "Genetic variation in a human odorant receptor alters odour perception." It's in the original post and it's all about perception.

  24. #24
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    Default Re: Factors that affect body odor– science only, please!

    Quote Originally Posted by LuciusVorenus View Post
    I'm glad that you did understand what the research was about. But don't you think I did the right thing, explaining it to you and the other basenoters? The heading of that article was misleading.

    Lucius

    .
    Thanks for clearing it up LV.
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  25. #25

    Default Re: Factors that affect body odor– science only, please!

    I missed a lot. Without reading all the posts and skimming, it appears many of you answered it on spot. The smell is from bacteria and the types of food you eat can affect the smell. Yes, perception depends on how cell surface receptors bind the molecule and ultimately how the brain interprets the smell.

  26. #26
    dpak's Avatar
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    Default Re: Factors that affect body odor– science only, please!

    Quote Originally Posted by LuciusVorenus View Post
    Are you saying that KBE lied?
    What? No! (confused, scratching head. Realization comes.) I see! The Science Daily article didn't mention the title of the study, which might have cleared things up sooner. In fact, the title of the article in Science Daily is ambiguous to say the least and could certainly lead one to think that the sweat itself is changed instead of the perception of it. No accusations at all. As far as I know, KBE is a fine, honest, upstanding, law-abiding gentleman who really needs to post a link to a high def 2' x 3' image of his avatar.
    Last edited by dpak; 4th April 2008 at 12:44 PM. Reason: clarification

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