Gene Variation Prevents Armpit Odor | Natural Health Blog

Date: 01/29/2013    Written by: Beth Levine

Deodorant's Not for Everyone?

Armpit Odor

Way back in your middle school health classes, you were probably taught about the changes your body was undergoing and the new requirements it entailed for good hygiene.  More frequent bathing, cleaning your face regularly to prevent acne, and wearing deodorant every day were most likely among the topics.  But now, new research has found that not everyone produces the type of body and armpit odor that deodorant can inhibit, rendering these products useless for a segment of the population.

The study, conducted at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, discovered that approximately two percent of women possess a genetic variation that results in their having no underarm odor.1  The subjects were 6,495 adult women who took part in the Children of the 90s Study, a long-term research project that had enrolled more than 14,000 women who were pregnant in 1991 or 1992.2  A small number of these women--just 117--were found to have a variant of the ABCC11 gene, which helps them stay odor-free even when they sweat.  Since no men were involved in the research, we can only guess whether they would possess this gene variation in similar percentages.

Of the armpit odor-producing participants in the study, an estimated five percent skip deodorant.  However, among those who do not become odiferous, more than 20 percent wear no deodorant.  Obviously, at some point they must have become aware that they do not generate the same type of body odor as the vast majority of people and decided to forgo deodorant.  But that leaves the remaining 78 percent of these individuals who have no underarm odor, yet still wear deodorant regularly.  It would have been interesting had the researchers asked questions about why deodorant is worn to try to determine whether these people are not cognizant of the fact that they produce no odor or if they are simply trying to follow what they consider a hygienic routine, whether it is necessary for them or not. Or perhaps, they use antiperspirant deodorants, not to prevent odor, but to prevent unsightly sweat stains under their arms.

For most of us, odor is emitted from the underarms after sweat is produced in the glands under the skin.  Once the sweat mixes with the bacteria that live on the surface of the skin, the odor is created…provided a normal ABC11 gene is present. The normal gene is required for the production of normal sweat odor. If a person has the variant and not the normal gene, no normal sweat odor is produced no matter how much they sweat. But keep in mind that odor from bacteria is only one source of underarm odor. Smells from the foods we eat make their way into our sweat also -- and they have no connection to the ABC11 gene. Garlic-laden foods in particular tend to come out in your pores.  As your digestive system begins to break down and metabolize the garlic, it produces a particularly pungent smell that tends to linger on the skin.3  And a 2006 study at Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic, confirmed something that vegetarians have long been aware of: that meat eaters often emit an unattractive odor.4 So maybe people with the aberrant gene need deodorant after all.

Back to the deodorant study, the researchers also found that people with the uncommon version of the ABCC11 gene tend to have dry ear wax rather than the typically sticky stuff most of us produce.  So, if you don't feel like sniffing your underarms after a good workout, you can always check your ear wax to determine whether you are part of the non-odoriferous group.

If you are among the lucky few who do not produce normal underarm odor due to this gene variation, there is no hygienic reason to continue using deodorant… dietary choices and underarm wetness aside.  In fact, it's quite likely to be safer not to use the stuff.  A study at the University of Reading in England in 2009 found that chemicals called parabens used in many commercial deodorants were present in 99 percent of breast cancer tissues taken from women being treated for the disease.5  Parabens are estrogen-mimicking xenoestrogens that are also used in a number of other grooming products, so it's nearly impossible to identify those in deodorants alone as the major contributor, but it is certainly worth reading labels and trying to choose products labeled paraben-free.

Then again, given that exposure to parabens and other xenoestrogens is almost impossible to avoid, it's probably a good idea for women to consider supplementation with a natural progesterone crème.  Our exposure to xenoestrogens through the food we eat, water we drink, and all around the world we live in is ever increasing and cumulative.  A natural progesterone formula (both men's and women's versions) can balance our hormones and help protect us from certain forms of cancer.

  • 1. "Deodorants: Do We Really Need Them?" Science Daily. 17 January 2013. Accessed 21 January 2013.
  • 2. "Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children." University of Bristol. 22 January 2013. Accessed 22 January 2013.
  • 3. Watson, Stephanie. "Can What You Eat Make You Sweat?" WebMD. 12 August 2010. Accessed 22 January 2013.
  • 4. Havlicek, Jan and Lenochova, Pavlina. "The Effect of Meat Consumption on Body Odor Attractiveness." Chemical Senses. 4 August 2006. Accessed 22 January 2013.
  • 5. Darbre, Philippa D. "Underarm antiperspirants/deodorants and breast cancer." Breast Cancer Res. 2009; 11(Suppl 3): S5. Accessed 22 January 2013.

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    Submitted by BJ on
    February 13, 2013 - 10:40am

    Jon, Years ago when I changed my diet drastically to a vegan raw based diet, my body order completely went away and I stopped wearing deorderant. It would be interesting to know if the case study evaluated diet as one of the aspects to determine body order. In addition to my body oder completely disappearing, so did all my other health problems, i.e. fybromyalgia, athritis, digestive problems, foggy brain, fatigued and depression. On another note, for those who have stubborn under arm order, just plain old peroxide rubbed on with a paper towel works like a charm. Always enjoy your newsletter and look forward to it. Thanks for being a voice for natural health. God bless.

    Submitted by Natalie Mannering on
    February 13, 2013 - 12:53pm

    Jon Barron wrote: "A natural progesterone formula (both men's and women's versions) can balance our hormones and help protect us from certain forms of cancer." Royal Peruvian Maca powder is also very good for balancing the hormones.

    Submitted by Pat on
    February 13, 2013 - 1:13pm

    The article says people NEED deodorant. No, they don't. The idea that we shouldn't tolerate each other unless we smell like we came from a chemical factory is bankrupt from the standpoint of health. Nearly all deodorants are harmful. We shouldn't have to sacrifice our health to social convention. If
    social convention is harmful (and in this case, it is), we need to change social convention. I recognize NO right on the part of the public to dictate to me how I manage my body or my health. The whole undercurrent really rubs me the wrong way, and is totally inappropriate for an organization that tries to promote health in natural ways.

    Social convention ostracizes those who do not conform and do terrible damage to people's lives. Don't encourage that. Don't be part of it. Don't act like it is right and proper. Good hygiene and refusing to smell like a human being are not synonymous. Negating who we are by harming our
    bodies with dangerous and deadly chemicals is not synonymous with hygiene. Hygiene is SUPPOSED to improve people's health, not destroy it.

    Submitted by Jokah Macpherson on
    September 13, 2014 - 2:01pm

    Just wanted to point out that the "odorless" variant of the ABCC11 gene is more "normal" then the other variant in the sense of how common it is worldwide, since it is extremely common in the East Asian groups that make up over half the world's population (effectively 100% of Koreans have the odorless phenotype). It's only rare in the the relative sense of a Western population.

    "Since no men were involved in the research, we can only guess whether they would possess this gene variation in similar percentages." - You can actually be certain that they do.

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