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Causes of Underarm Odor

author image Margo Steele
Former teacher/real estate broker Margo Steele began freelance writing and editing in 1985, and has written for eHow Home and Garden, Trails Travel, Garden Guides and LIVESTRONG.COM. She also remodels houses, designs and sells jewelry, and is an avid gardener. Steele is a graduate of Louisiana Tech University with a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Master of Arts in speech communication.
Causes of Underarm Odor
Deodorants help prevent underarm odor.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN medical correspondent, says that the average person in the United States sweats 278 gallons every year. According to Gupta, sweat is not all bad. He says it releases antibacterial substances that help fend off infections and rid the body of toxins. Nevertheless, Americans spend more than $2 billion a year on antiperspirants and deodorants to fight the causes of underarm odor.

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Specialists at Mayo Clinic identify two types of sweat glands in the skin: eccrine and apocrine. Eccrine glands occur over most of the body and open directly onto the skin’s surface. When your body temperature rises, eccrine glands secrete fluid, mainly water and salt, onto the surface of your skin where it evaporates and cools your body. Apocrine glands, located in hairy areas, such as groin, scalp and armpits, secrete a fatty type of sweat directly into the glands' tubules. When triggered by stress, the tubules push sweat to the skin's surface where bacteria break it down and produce odor.

Apocrine Bromhidrosis

Underarm odor caused by apocrine bromhidrosis differs from regular underarm odor in that it is abnormally offensive and hard to control. Bacterial action on apocrine sweat in the armpit area produces fatty acids and ammonia. The resulting odor has been variously described as rancid, musty and pungent. Apocrine bromhidrosis occurs after puberty when the apocrine glands become active. More men than women are affected. Contributing causes may be obesity and diabetes mellitus. Keeping the skin clean to reduce the bacteria count, and keeping armpits as dry as possible may help. The New Zealand Dermatological Society Incorporated recommends washing with germicidal soap twice a day, keeping armpits shaved and using topical deodorants.


Trimethylaminuria is a rare genetic disorder in which the body is unable to break down trimethylamine, a compound that has the odor of rotten fish. This compound derives from the diet, and as it builds up in the system odor is released in breath, urine and sweat. Most cases of trimethylaminuria are caused by gene mutations, but an excess of certain proteins in the diet or an increase in the bacteria that produce trimethylamine in the digestive tract can also cause it. Occasionally, it occurs in adults suffering from liver or kidney disease.

Lifestyle And Hygiene

A daily bath is relaxing and helps control body odor.
A daily bath is relaxing and helps control body odor.

Poor hygiene and certain lifestyle choices can result in underarm odor. When you do not bathe every day, even if you do not suffer from bromhidrosis or trimenthylaminuria, bacteria builds up on your skin, hastens the breakdown of sweat and promotes offensive underarm odor. Alcohol or caffeinated drinks may increase sweating and the likelihood of odor. Strong-smelling foods, such as curries, onions and garlic, may also be contributing factors.

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