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Health Zone: You are what you eat..what you eat is how you smell Eat to help you smell sweet.

Byline: Peta Bee

YOU are what you eat, so they say. But now it seems that what you eat determines the way you smell too.

As well as indicating the food you've consumed, your unique body scent can give clues about your nationality, your health and even your state of mind.

Our body odour is affected by food because it seeps out through the pores. Also tiny particles of it cling to the skin's surface and hair.

So if you overdo the oily fish, dairy products or curry you'll be giving off a potent whiff.

Professor Tom Sanders of the nutrition department at King's College, London, says: "There are definite differences in the way people smell and sometimes food can affect the scent that comes from their skin and breath.

"Body scents come from the apocrine or sweat glands and are affected by micro-organisms and cultures that live on your skin's surface. Eat a lot of certain foods and it has been shown to change the the way you smell.

"People who eat a lot of oily fish and those who take too many fish oil supplements can begin to smell fishy themselves."

But diet can help our skin smell better, too. Professor Sanders says a lot of foods we consider pleasant-smelling don't smell strongly enough to affect our skin.

"However, eating fresh fruit and vegetables which are considered cleansing will have a neutralising, freshening effect," he adds.

So how much food do we need to eat to change our smell? "That depends both on the food type and on a person's body type," says Professor Sanders.

"The levels of micro-organisms on someone's skin surface that react with smells along with the action of sweat glands varies enormously from person to person."

According to myth and old wives' tales, where you live affects the way you smell to others. It is all down to the favourite foods of different nations.

Apparently, Europeans smell of cabbage, Indonesians of rice and Americans of butter. The Japanese smell of fish, Eskimos of bacon and South Sea islanders of fresh fruit.

The poor Dutch reputedly carry the scent of sour milk, thanks to eating a lot of dairy foods.

People in the North of England are more likely to have a sour scent, with overtones of cabbage, because they enjoy dairy products and sulphurous foods such as greens and beans.

People from Manchester and Birmingham eat up to 14 per cent more dairy produce than the national average, so they may be in the same boat as the Dutch.

Londoners eat 15 per cent less dairy produce than average but four times more fish, so they could smell more like a herring.

Once, humans were able to sniff and identify more than 10,000 odours. Now we can recognise fewer than than 1,000. But the nose is still one of the most sensitive parts of the body, and our sense of smell is much more accurate than our sense of taste.

With three million scent glands located all over the body, including in the armpits, mouth, eyelids, navel and nipples, your personal odour could give away a lot about you, according to a report in Bare this month. Here are some of the ways in which it works.

SKIN COLOUR: Prof Sanders explains: "There are differences in the apocrine glands of white and black skins, which means that the effects of eating certain foods can differ."

SEX: Male bodies smell differently from female ones. This is thought to be linked with the extra sub-cutaneous fat layer women have, which could cause different reactions with body odours. Insects such as mosquitoes are more attracted to women because of their body odour.

GENETICS: Thirty per cent of people who eat asparagus are unable to metabolise the compounds it contains. The result can be foul-smelling sweat and urine.

HEALTH: Hippocrates said 2,000 years ago that the nose should be used as a tool of diagnosis, and many doctors prescribed medication as a result of sniffing out a patient's ailments. Someone who smelt of freshly-baked bread could have typhoid. Stale beer indicated tuberculosis and fresh meat yellow fever.

Prof Sanders says: "Breath that smells strongly of nail varnish can be a sign that someone has diabetes, and fishy-smelling breath can be a sign of alcoholism."

People suffering liver failure also emit a fishy smell, and someone with uraemia will smell of ammonia. Bad breath is often a sign of an abscess, mouth ulcers or infected gums.

STATE OF MIND: Even the way you are feeling can cause you to smell differently. "It is not a myth that you can sniff out fear on someone," says Prof Sanders. "When you are afraid, the body stimulates your sweat glands into overload, so that the body smells completely differently from when you're calm."

According to folklore, happy people smell sweeter than the rest. This is thought to be linked to higher levels of serotonin, the brain's feel-good chemical and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

DIETING: A biological process called ketosis takes place when the body is deprived of food, to ensure the brain is provided with an emergency supply of fuel. The result is often bad breath from the mouths of those trying to shed weight - and this could explain why underweight people are supposed to smell less sweet than heavier ones. There is also an unkind myth that greedy people have the odour of rats.

ENZYMES: Different people have different levels of enzymes in their bodies. Conditions like fish-odour syndrome, for instance, are caused by lack of the enzyme FM03 which is needed to break down trimethylamine (TMA).

Without FM03 the body can't digest a substance called choline, found in animal tissue, fish and eggs. HAIR COLOUR: There is a point on the neck where the nerves of the right and left scalp meet. This is where your personal odour is strongest. Here, female brunettes are said to smell of wild pansies and blondes of amber and musk. Dyeing your hair will not change this.

Foods to eat for sweet skin

BROWN rice, honey, miso and fresh vegetables leave clean smells seeping through your pores

Strawberries, melon, mango and peach will all leave your whole body smelling sweeter than sweet. Citrus fruits such as lemon, orange, grapefruit and lime are good natural cleansers that will leave you smelling fresh inside and out.

For fresh breath: Chewing a few dill seeds or a couple of coffee beans after a meal can help avoid the smell of food on your breath. Caraway and cardamon seeds are also effective, while chewing a few sprigs of parsely can lessen the smell of garlic, onions and alcohol.

Foods to avoid

ONIONS and chives belong to the same family as garlic and can produce the same pungent smells. These not only make your skin smell, but your breath as well.

A lot of oily fish - eg mackerel, herring and tuna - can seep through the pores and leave your skin smelling fishy. Beans, cabbage, dried apricots and apple juice contain gas-producing sulphurs - as well as leaving your skin with a cabbagy scent, eating these wind-producing foods may result in a trail of unpleasant smells behind you.

Curry and other spices can often be smelled on the skin of people who eat a lot of them.

Cloves, too, have a strong smell that can seep through the pores.
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Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 4, 2001
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