As you’re about to head out the door for an important meeting, you do what many people do before leaving the house, do a quick check to make sure you’re smelling your best. But this time, you notice a strong smell, and are alarmed to realize the odor seems to be coming from you. Just an hour ago you showered, used deodorant, and put on clean clothes. So, what’s going on?
A change or increase in your body odor during menopause could be to blame. About 80% of menopausal women experience vasomotor symptoms, like hot flashes and night sweats, both of which are believed to be caused by fluctuating estrogen levels.1 When our body’s temperature rises, the hypothalamus (a gland in the brain that, among other things, regulates body temperature) signals the body to produce sweat to help cool down.2 And sweat, as we know, can be accompanied by a noticeable odor.
What Causes Change in Body Odor During Menopause?
Sweat consists of water, salt, and fat. It’s released through pores in our skin, which is naturally covered with bacteria. When the bacteria and sweat mix, a perceptible smell may result. Since menopausal women tend to sweat more due to increased body temperature from hot flashes or night sweats, they may also notice changes in their body odor. Although this isn’t discussed as often as other menopause symptoms, increased or altered body odor is not unusual.3
Another reason body odor may be different during menopause is because lower estrogen levels result in an altered estrogen/testosterone ratio. Testosterone is also produced by the ovaries and is typically considered “a primarily male hormone.” Additional testosterone may lead to more bacteria in the sweat, which in turn, produces a stronger smell.4
A third type of body odor change can take place in the genitals, as some perimenopausal or menopausal women may find that their vaginal odor is different—this is typically due to changes in the vagina’s pH and glucose levels, which are impacted by the fluctuations in hormones experienced during menopause.5
Tips to Control Body Odor
If you’re worried that your body odor is stronger or more noticeable than usual since transitioning through menopause, there are a number of things you can try to help keep things in check.
Keep Cool at Night
Even if your internal thermostat is going haywire due to your shifting hormones, there are ways to reduce higher body temperatures. Turning down the thermostat, taking a cool shower before bed, and running a fan by your bedside can help you stay cooler. Products designed specifically for nighttime comfort are available, too, such as cooling pads for your mattress and cooling pillows. It may be worth giving these a try if night sweats are a particularly disruptive issue. 6
Consider Your Clothes
Breathable fabrics can help keep you cooler during the day and at night. Look for thinner, natural materials like cotton or linen. Bamboo is another good choice, as it draws moisture away from the skin – it’s hypoallergenic and antibacterial, too.7 Materials to avoid include wool and most synthetic fabrics. Dressing in layers is also helpful and enables you to remove clothing when you feel warm as well as add layers if you experience chills.8
Rethink Your Diet
Re-evaluating your diet may also help control body odors related to menopause. The first rule of thumb is to stay hydrated, because sweat can have a stronger smell when your body lacks water.9 Take stock of the foods you eat as well, and consider eating things that contain magnesium, as these may help reduce stress and anxiety as well as promote better sleep (all things that could contribute to a reduction in sweating).10 Zinc-rich foods can also be helpful and include things like oysters, tofu, chicken and yogurt. Magnesium-friendly foods include spinach, pumpkin seeds, tuna, brown rice, and almonds. Also, you may want to limit foods that tend to release compounds through the skin that can affect body odor, like red meats, garlic, and onions.11
What About Supplements?
Some women find that taking supplements can help reduce sweat-inducing menopausal symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats. Black cohosh is a popular herb for treating hot flashes; researchers believe it works by binding to estrogen receptors or stimulating serotonin receptors.12 Red clover and evening primrose oil are also taken by some women to control changes in body temperature, although no official studies have concluded that these remedies are effective.13 Be mindful of supplements containing black cohosh, red clover and evening primrose, however, if you’re looking to avoid potential hormonal side effects, as these herbs are known as phytoestrogens (meaning they may have estrogen like properties and may act like a hormone in the body). Also remember, to always check with your healthcare provider first before trying any new type of supplement.
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Other Odor Control Solutions
Applying an antiperspirant—which blocks sweat glands—may help reduce sweating, and some types even contain antibacterial properties to help reduce the bacteria that causes odors. Extra strength deodorants can also help. 14 Prescription strength antiperspirants and Botox injections into the sweat glands are more aggressive options you can consider.15 And if you need an on-the-go solution, a great option is to stash cleansing wipes in your car or purse for a quick, skin-centered cool down, as needed.16
We think it’s important to note that a change in body odor doesn't necessarily require "fixing." In fact, your scent may not have shifted at all…hormonal changes sometimes cause your sense of smell to be more acute (this can happen also in pregnancy), so, it's possible that you actually don’t smell any different—it may just be your nose that’s in overdrive.17
When to Check with Your Healthcare Provider
While changes in body odor during menopause are completely normal, some specific smells may point to a more serious issue. A fruity odor may be a sign of diabetes, and a bleach-like scent could indicate liver or kidney problems.18 If at any time you have concerns or questions about new symptoms or disruptive changes in body odor, be sure to check with your healthcare provider.