Begone, bugs! If only getting rid of mosquitoes were that easy. Although there are many anecdotes about things you can eat to repel mosquitoes, there's no concrete, clinical evidence that any of them work.
That doesn't mean you can't eat foods like garlic or onions in hopes of keeping the mosquitoes from biting. As long as you don't have food allergies or sensitivities and are consuming those foods in reasonable quantities, go for it. Just be warned that such pungent foods may affect your friendships as much as, or more than, any insects in your vicinity.
According to popular anecdotes, garlic, onions and bananas are all foods that repel mosquitoes. But scientists haven't found any clinical evidence that this is actually the case.
Foods That Repel Insects?
As the University of Florida IFAS Extension explains, there is no scientific evidence that eating garlic, onions, bananas, foods rich in B vitamins — or any other foods — will make you less attractive to hungry mosquitoes.
However, they do note that whether a person does or doesn't attract mosquitoes is based on the complex interaction of many chemical and visual signals. This is why, as they explain, "certain foods in certain individuals may affect their individual attractiveness to biting arthropods, for better or for worse."
Or to put it another way: If your Uncle George tells you that mosquitoes never bite him because of all the garlic he eats, he might actually be right. But that doesn't mean the same "anti-mosquito diet" will have the same effect for you.
Read more: Which Is Healthier, Raw or Cooked Garlic?
What Does Repel Mosquitoes?
There are plenty of plants that repel mosquitoes, and many of them can be used as food sources. However, as far as scientists have been able to determine, those plants don't repel mosquitoes from inside your body after they're ingested. They have to be on the outside, which can mean being rubbed on your skin and clothes or burned as a fumigant.
In a landmark literature review published in the March 2011 issue of Malaria Journal, researchers list proven plant remedies for repelling mosquitoes, along with their foibles.
For example, PMD or para-methane 3, 8 diol, a derivative of lemon eucalyptus, provides very high protection for several hours. But it's important to distinguish PMB from lemon eucalyptus essential oil, which the researchers say doesn't protect for as long — and which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) specifically does not recommend for use as a repellent.
However, the CDC does recommend formulations that have PMD or oil of lemon eucalyptus as the active ingredient. They also recommend the natural/synthesized biopesticide repellents IR3535 and 2-undecanone for repelling disease-carrying insects, along with the more conventional picaridin and DEET.
Other natural mosquito repellents called out in the Malaria Journal review include citronella, which the researchers note only provides protection for up to two hours, with that efficacy being very dependent on how it's formulated; neem; and a variety of other natural oils that, they warn, vary enormously in their effectiveness.
If you really want to make a significant dietary change to make yourself less attractive to mosquitoes, consider giving up alcohol. According to a one-of-a-kind study published in the March 2010 issue of PLOS One involving 25 human volunteers and 2,500 mosquitoes, drinking beer made the humans consistently more attractive to the mosquitoes.
Is This an Emergency?
- University of Florida IFAS Extension: "Mosquito Repellents"
- Malaria Journal: "Plant-Based Insect Repellents: A Review of Their Efficacy, Development and Testing"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Mosquitoes, Ticks & Other Arthropods"
- PLOS One: "Beer Consumption Increases Human Attractiveness to Malaria Mosquitoes"
- "Journal of the American Mosquito Control Assn."; Testing Vitamin B...; A.R. Ives, et al.; June 2005
- "Journal of the American Mosquito Control Assn."; Alcohol...; O. Shirai, et al.; June 2002
- "PLoS ONE"; Beer Consumption...; T. Lefèvre, et al.; March 2010
- University of Maryland Medical Center; Bugs and Kids: Mosquito Protection Tips; April 2007