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Human body odor

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Human body odor

Postby Tramadolian » Sat Apr 20, 2013 10:28 pm

my understanding is the smell of my armpits is not produced by my body but instead by bacteria that eat proteins from my body and what i smell is the waste of those bacteria . i guess my first question is do i have that right ?

my second question is do the bacteria flourish because of typical hygiene ? a woman is not supposed to douche because that will change the environment and "bad" bacteria will flourish . so i'm wondering if we are doing that same type of thing to our pits . if left alone would a different environment develop and smell less ? did primitive man smell less than if i wear the same shirt for a week ?

hunters say a deer can hear you three times , see you twice , and smell you once before it will flee . that is what got me thinking about this , how could a stinky primitive man sneak up on his prey with a crappy bow or spear if he smelled so strong ?
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Postby JackBean » Mon Apr 22, 2013 3:36 pm

Basically yes, you're right.

There are billions of bacteria all around you including inside you. Most bacteria smell because they simply produce some "smelly" compounds. Even yogurt has some smell, not to speak about E. coli.

For the same reason as they don't smell e.g. lion or other predator which must actually catch his prey. Because one cannot smell anything against the wind. That's a simple rule for all running around in the wilderness.
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Re: Human body odor

Postby biohazard » Wed Apr 24, 2013 7:37 am

Tramadolian wrote:my understanding is the smell of my armpits is not produced by my body but instead by bacteria that eat proteins from my body and what i smell is the waste of those bacteria . i guess my first question is do i have that right ?

my second question is do the bacteria flourish because of typical hygiene ? a woman is not supposed to douche because that will change the environment and "bad" bacteria will flourish . so i'm wondering if we are doing that same type of thing to our pits . if left alone would a different environment develop and smell less ? did primitive man smell less than if i wear the same shirt for a week ?

hunters say a deer can hear you three times , see you twice , and smell you once before it will flee . that is what got me thinking about this , how could a stinky primitive man sneak up on his prey with a crappy bow or spear if he smelled so strong ?


The human skin is quite a harsh environment for bacteria and other microbes: it is dry, low on nutrients, its oils and enzymes have antimicrobial properties and it is constantly being shed, which makes colonizing the skin difficult. Thus regular washing rarely gives room for harmful microbes, because the ones that have specialized to live on human skin have occupied the available living space in this quite unfavorable environment. So, for the "bad" bacteria to flourish, one needs to have some predisposing condition (like severe atopy etc.) or one has to wash themselves much more often than is normal. A very sensitive skin that is easily rashed or broken could be a risk factor as well.

The lack of water is perhaps the biggest obstacle for bacterial growth on the skin and thus tropical or otherwise moist and humid environments drastically increase the chances of skin infections or overgrowth of bacteria.

I think our ancestors were pretty stinky by our modern standards and like JackBean said, had to sneak upon their prey against the wind, pretty much as other predators do as well. Even modern humans are probably very smelly by animal standards and most animals can easily smell a human being whether they have bathed or not.

Normal sweat is pretty odorless, but in some regions (e.g. the arm pits) hormonal effects make us secrete many kinds of oils and pheromones and whatnot, which constitute much of the perceived smell especially when they interact with the skin bacteria. Many have probably noticed that when we are really nervous we not only sweat easily, but the sweat often has the typical, pungent smell on it that is absent in normal cases. Our ancestors probably relied much more on these "smell signals" back in the day, which the modern human is so desperate to remove by frequent showering.
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Postby Tramadolian » Wed May 01, 2013 1:53 am

ya ok , hunting upwind makes sense . thank you for the responses . and i guess there is no way to know what primitive man smelled like , unless there has been a study on a guy that stopped showering or sumin
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Re: Human body odor

Postby elizabeth35 » Tue Aug 27, 2013 10:45 am

Body odor is a perceived unpleasant smell our bodies can give off when bacteria that live on the skin break down sweat into acids - some say it is the smell of bacteria growing on the body, but it really is the result of bacteria breaking down protein into certain acids. Body odor can have a nice and specific smell to the individual, and can be used - especially by dogs and other animals - to identify people. Each person's unique body odor can be influenced by diet, gender, health, and medication. Experts say that pheromones subconsciously influence how we react to each other; one human may find another sexually attractive because the smell of their pheromones is attractive to him/her.
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