to counteract smelly armpits
By Dr. Karen Koning
Years ago, when I landed my first serious job, I also made the acquaintance of co-worker X. He was very nice and very good at his job but – my, oh my – he didn’t half smell! Him briefly standing in the doorway for a quick chat was enough to fill the room with a strong unpleasant smell of sweat. Up to an hour later, people could still tell he had been there, even after the window had been open to let fresh air in (not all that comfortable in the dead of winter). It turned out, by the way, that co-worker X wasn’t the slightest bit concerned when someone talked to him about it, responding: ‘I don’t have that strong a smell – and anyway, my wife thinks it’s manly.’ Oh well, there’s no accounting for taste, or – apparently – smell.
Maybe co-worker X was not a fan of deodorant either. We know that smelly armpits are not only linked to personal hygiene – or want thereof – but that the skin microbiota in the armpits also plays a key role. Although body odour is influenced by a number of different factors, we know that the skin microbiota plays a key role in breaking down the skin’s natural fatty acids, hormones and amino acids, causing their volatile components to be released. The strength and nature of someone’s body odour is largely determined by the type of microorganisms present on the skin and in the armpit. It has been found that Corynebacteria produce smelly compounds, whereas the “good” Staphylococci produce no odour.
People who underwent an ‘armpit transplantation’ remained odourless, even in the months to follow
Chris Callewaert of Ghent University in Belgium, nicknamed “Dr. Armpit”, is conducting research in this field. He transplants armpit bacteria from donors who don’t smell to recipients who do. And it appears to work, with people who underwent an ‘armpit transplantation’ remaining odourless, even in the months to follow. When the microbiota was examined, this effect was shown to be linked to an abundance of the “good” Staphylococci. The effect is not universal, though. Transplantations like these will only have long-term success if the donor and recipient are related. Transplantations between non-relatives were unsuccessful. The probable reason for this is that their Staphylococci are too different.
Chris also looked into the question of why polyester clothing, as opposed to cotton, is linked to stronger body odour. He found that this is not caused by Corynebacteria – because these are unable to propagate on fabric – but by Micrococci. These bacteria are all but absent on armpit skin or in cotton fabric, but can propagate explosively on polyester fibres. So it makes sense to wear a cotton shirt during sports activities or on a hot day instead of a polyester one. And for people with chronically malodorous armpits, having an armpit transplantation done may be far more effective than any type of deodorant. Yet another great example of how our bacteria affect our day-to-day lives without us realizing it.
Want to know more about Dr. Armpit and armpit bacteria transplantations? Visit the Dr. Armpits website
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