Sweating is a process that helps in regulation of body temperature as well as getting rid of waste matter. Sweat by itself is odorless. It becomes smelly when bacteria naturally occurring on the skin break down sweat into its varied byproduct compounds. These byproducts are usually acids and are the cause of body odor.
Propionic acid and isovaleric acid are the two most common acid compounds produced due to action of bacteria on sweat. The former smells like vinegar and causes sweat to smell like vinegar, while the latter has a cheesy odor.
Different types of sweat glands
There are 2 major types of sweat glands in the body, i.e., the eccrine sweat glands and the apocrine sweat glands. Each of these secrete varied types of sweat.
- The eccrine glands are located all across the body and are instrumental in producing sweat that helps cool down the body. The sweat released onto the skin by these glands typically contain water.
- The apocrine glands are located in the armpits, below groin, and around areola and eyelids. These glands are bigger than eccrine sweat glands and release thick perspiration with matter that acts as food for the bacteria. They tend to be dormant and do not function through childhood. They activate and begin functioning after puberty. The disintegration of sweat secreted by the apocrine glands by bacteria is the cause of body odor.
- The skin’s sweat glands are home to propioni bacteria. These bacteria break down amino acids into propionic acid which smells like vinegar and thus causes sweat to smell like vinegar.
Sweat tends to smell like vinegar due to changes in the bacteria present in the gut and the skin. Changes in the skin bacteria flora can occur due to weather alterations as bacteria have a tendency to flourish in varied dry, cold, and hot conditions. Changes in gut bacteria may occur due to the diet.
Some of the common causes of sweat that smells like vinegar are listed below:
- The diet: Eating certain kinds of foods can play a role in the occurrence of body odor. Certain compounds and nutrients that occur in food may cause the sweat smell, especially if these compounds are present in that specific food in large quantities. Compounds such as sulfides have a putrid smell and tends to get released during absorption and digestion of food. Later they get eliminated from the body along with sweat.
- Certain foods which can cause sweat to smell like vinegar include asparagus, coriander, onions, red meat, yogurt, garlic, cabbage, and protein-rich foods. The vinegar smell will be more evident if such foods are consumed in large amounts.
- Bad personal hygiene: Lack of personal hygiene is another common cause of sweat that smells like vinegar. Sweat is waste that is released by the body. Hence, not taking regular baths or showers can result in accumulation of sweat on the skin. This is the case even when you sweat at a normal pace. Bacterial action on such increased amounts of sweat waste is all the more enhanced, eventually causing sweat with vinegar smell.
- Hormonal changes: Changes in the levels of hormones in the body can cause vinegar smelling sweat. One of the major examples of hormonal changes and body odor is menopause. Hot flashes associated with menopause often triggers increased perspiration. Bacteria then act upon such elevated levels of sweat and release excess amounts of acidic compounds which then impart a vinegar odor to sweat.
- Diabetes: It is a chronic condition marked by high levels of blood sugar. The process of sugar break down is marked by the release of acidic compounds that may impart a vinegar like smell to sweat. Hence, diabetics tend to suffer from sweat that smells like vinegar.
- Non-treatment of diabetes can result in diabetic ketoacidosis, a complication wherein the body begins breaking down fat for energy production instead of sugar. This happens because of the lack of insulin which is needed for sugar processing. The process of fat breakdown for energy leads to release of ketones. Ketone accumulation in the body can then cause body odor changes.
Treatment of sweat which smells like vinegar
Treatment of sweat that smells like vinegar is dependent on the attributing cause. Thus, better personal hygiene, management of diabetes, and eating a balanced diet can help treat and prevent cases of vinegar smelling sweat.
Some preventive measures for sweat with vinegar odor are listed below:
- Avoid the use of skin products that alter the bacteria flora on the skin
- Wear clothes made of loose breathable fabric that allows dissipation of perspiration.
- Take a shower on a daily basis. Take a shower after being out in open environments.
- Avoid excessive intake of spicy foods, especially those with pungent flavors.
- Use antiperspirants to limit bacteria action on sweat and thus prevent body odor.