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I’m not smelly…but what about you?

Now, if you are new to MotherNaturesDiet (MND), you are probably going to think this post is a little weird, but stick with it, it all makes sense once you get to the end. If you already know me and you have been following MND for a while, then you’ll probably be thinking, judging by the title of this piece, that I have a valid point to make and you know I’ll get to it in my own sweet time!

I have been running for a few years now. In the warm weather in spring and summer, I wear just a short sleeve running top, or no shirt at all if it’s really warm and sunny, but in cold weather, I wear multiple layers to keep me warm. Since I lost the excess weight I carried around for 20 years, I’m no longer ‘wearing’ my 2-inch thick layer of fat that used to keep me warm, so it takes me a while to warm up these days, and I hate being cold, so I always favour being too hot over too cold, every time. I’m the weird runner who thinks a hot sunny day is perfect running weather, even for an event like a marathon, when most regular club runners prefer a cool overcast day.

In early 2010 I bought the Gore running top that I am seen wearing in this picture.


It’s an excellent cold-weather running top and I wear it ALL the time while running and cycling. I tend to wear a typical Lycra running shirt underneath, and this on top, and it keeps me warm and it wicks the sweat away quite well.

Having said that it takes me a while to warm up, once I do get going, I sweat profusely. I once heard that sweating heavily is a sign of good health, an efficient, fit, healthy body sweats to keep you cool inside – heavy sweating when you are working hard, is therefore a sign of fitness, your body working as it should. I don’t know if that is true, but it certainly sounds logical to me. Anyway, it takes me a while to warm up, but once I get going, I sweat like crazy, and usually, by the end of an hour running at a good pace, I will get back and pretty much all my clothing will be close to wet right through from sweat.

As described, when I’m wearing my winter running gear, the running shirt underneath will be soaked through, and this black and green Gore thermal running top in the picture, will also be quite damp with my sweat. Now obviously, the wet shirt goes straight in the wash, I have loads of those running shirts (you always get one when you run a marathon or longer, and I have loads of them) so I wear a different one every day and when I get back from a run and take my shirt off, I don’t need it again the next day. However, the winter running top is a different story. I don’t have loads of them, I actually only have one, I just never got around to buying a second (such tops are pricey, about £100 each), and so I do need it again the next day, so there isn’t time to wash it and dry it every day.

Phew, long introduction there to get to my point, sorry about that…

I bought this top, as best as I can remember, in March 2010, and when I wore it for running and cycling between March 2010 and November 2011 (when I stopped running because of my knee injury) I used to have just one problem with it – the armpits got a bit smelly. I used to wear the top 5 or 6 days per week to run, then I might have a day off running which gave me a chance to wash and dry it before the cycle started over again. As the winter months went on, it would bother me that bad odour was accumulating in the armpits, to the point that even after a hot wash (65 degrees or whatever…I’m not a washing expert!) and fresh on, it would still be a bit smelly, if I shoved the armpit area right up to my nose to sniff it.

This really used to bug me. I hate to smell bad. I am not some metro-sexual man who grooms himself to perfection, but I do care about personal hygiene and I always like to be clean and fresh and I would hate to ever think that anyone thought I smelled bad in any way! So, even though I only put this thing on to run for an hour then come home and take it off, I still hated that it was a bit smelly, and even fresh on from the wash, within 1 run, it definitely ponged a bit. I tried soaking it, hot washes, different cleaning products, hand-washing it and scrubbing the heck out of the armpits…but nothing seemed to help.

Anyway, then in November 2011 I had to stop running, because of injury, and I took a year off running. I started running again late 2012, but only running a little. Now, in Autumn 2013 and Winter 2013/2014 I am running regularly again.

I am getting to a point with this story, honestly, stick with me guys – now, in 2013/2014, I am running regularly again. From the end of November 2013 to mid-January 2014, I ran for an hour pretty much every day, and again I have worn the combination of a Lycra running shirt underneath, and this beloved, much-used Gore thermal running jacket on top. A couple of weeks ago, I was packing to go away on a business trip…I knew I would be busy, sitting in meetings, all day from 9 in the morning until 10 or 11 every evening, so my only chance to exercise would be to get up every morning and go out running in the cold and dark. I was packing my bag and as I grabbed my running jacket to pack it, I realised I was taking it off the radiator where it had been drying since my run that morning. I realised I had worn it every day for about the last 6 or 7 days and it had not been in the wash. I thought ‘Oh no, it must need a wash, I hope it doesn’t stink’ and I shoved the armpit area up to my nose and…it didn’t smell at all.

Interesting. I packed it, went on the trip, and ran every morning for an hour for 4 or 5 more days, then came home. Unpacking the top, I checked again and it still didn’t smell bad. So at that point, when I did finally wash the thing, I had run in it for an hour, every day for approximately 10 to 12 days consecutively and yet it still did not smell of B.O. Of course, it didn’t smell ‘laundry fresh’, but it didn’t smell bad, it just didn’t smell at all.

Now, for the last two or three weeks, I have been chewing this all over in my mind, and finally (well done and thanks for sticking with me this far) we are getting to the point of this post. Two years ago, running regularly in this top and washing it after every 2 or 3 runs, it still got smelly, but now I can run in it up to a dozen times and yet there is no smell.

So what has changed?

  • I’m the same man
  • I’m doing the same activity
  • Same climate/location/environment
  • Same clothes
  • Same running pace (roughly)
  • My body fat level is roughly the same
  • I still live in the same home, and we still wash our clothes using the same detergent
  • My running speed, distance, nothing much changed there
  • In all of this, the only thing that is different, is my diet, my body inside, my skin and my sweat

I talked to a knowledgeable friend, and did some research.

What is sweat and what is body odour?

It seems that it is not the sweat itself that creates bad body odour, it is in fact the sweat reacting with bacteria that live on the skin. Your body produces two types of sweat, from different glands. One type is used for cooling the body (like during exercise) and this does not create bad smells at all. The other type (secreted through glands called apocrine glands) is the one that causes bad smells. The apocrine glands are present predominantly in ‘hairy places’ such as arm pits and the groin. When these glands secret their sweat, it reacts with bacteria on the skin, and causes body odour.

Sweat is made up of mostly water, a few minerals (predominantly salt), some proteins and a little waste (lactic acid and urea) from your body. The places most prone to creating bad smells are armpits and feet. In total there are between 3 and 4 million sweat glands on an average person, and the feet have more sweat glands than any other body part.

How come I don’t smell bad any more?

I have been trying to understand what this means for me. Either the sweat I produce no longer reacts with the bacteria on my skin, or the waste in my sweat is reduced, or there is no bacteria on my skin to react with. I would love to give you a complete scientific breakdown of each of those 3 possibilities, but I can’t. I have no lab analysis of my sweat (or my skin bacterial count) now, nor did I have any such tests done 2 or 3 years ago, so we are left with common sense thinking, in the absence of hard data.

When we sweat, we shed water as part of the cooling process that sweat is designed to facilitate. As the sweat under discussion in this example is caused by my activity (running) then it is fair to assume that the lactic acid produced when I run is the same…from 2011, to 2012, to 2013. So that leaves us looking at the small amounts of waste product (urea) that are present in my sweat.

I thought about what had changed between “Karl running in 2011” and “Karl running in 2013” and I decided there are only 2 things different in my life –

1)      I have eliminated refined white sugar and alcohol from my diet

2)      I have almost completed stopped using deodorant underarm products

On first glance, it may seem that #2 is the big, most obvious difference. I have STOPPED using deodorant and now my arm pits are less smelly. But in fact, stopping almost all use of deodorant is a pretty recent development for me, just the last 2 or 3 months. However, I was running all last winter (2012-2013), and the running top didn’t get smelly and back then I still used deodorant, so the one big change comes down to my diet. In 2011, from February to June (during which time, I know the smell was bothering me), I had already eliminated grain and dairy from my diet (I mostly quit those back at the start of 2010), but I had not yet completely eliminated refined sugar and I was still drinking alcohol. Now, I quit refined sugar at the end of 2011, and then I quit alcohol (as the last bit of refined sugar in my diet) on 1st Jan 2012.

As far as I can tell, the only real difference between two years ago and now, is that I quit alcohol and refined sugar. Otherwise, I’m the same guy, doing the same activity, wearing the same clothes, in the same places, at the same pace. I’m eating mostly the same food, hydration is about the same, pace and duration of exercise is about the same. But now my body has had time to cleanse alcohol completely from my system, and now I have eliminated 99% of the refined sugar from my diet. My personal hygiene has not changed…I have always washed daily, showering once or twice per day, and I have always put on clean fresh clothes every day, and I have never been one for poor personal hygiene habits – well, not since my drunken youth at 17 or 18 years old!

You drink = you stink shutterstock_103685606

I can honestly say, I have looked at all possible variables, and the only factors that have changed are:

  • I quit refined white sugar, and have eliminated 99% of sugar from my diet (only natural fruit sugar remains)
  • I quit alcohol (2 years and 1 month now)
  • I stopped using underarm deodorant most days – now only use perhaps 1 day per week

These changes have either led to a reduction in the waste content of my sweat, or a reduction in the bacteria present on my skin, and one of these factors accounts for why my armpits now produce no bad odour at all, even if I wear the same top several days at a time and run for an hour in that top! That’s actually pretty remarkable when you think about it!

I thought through every other possibility – could my internal hormone balance have changed? Well, if I was comparing me at 20 to me at 40, sure that might be a factor. But me at 41 compared to me at 43…no, I don’t think that would make any difference. I thought about stress hormones, but I would say my stress levels (work, relationships, finances, parenting, etc.) are probably about the same in 2011, 2012 and 2013. What other factors have changed in my diet between 2011 and late 2013? Well, my diet is cleaner now than ever, but really, I have dealt with that above…the sugar and alcohol is the main change, most of my other dietary changes occurred in 2010-2011. Are my personal showering and grooming habits changed? No, I kinda still wash and scrub the same, I can’t think of any change there!!

So I cannot say for sure which change it is – less waste in my sweat, or less bacteria on my skin. BUT, I can say, that whichever it is, I am fairly certain that removing refined sugar and alcohol from my life has been the root cause for the change. And it has left me feeling so clean and fresh, that I have now managed to give up using any underarm deodorant almost completely, which seems to me like a massive bonus, as that is now one less source of chemicals my body is exposed to.

Take this thought away with you

Well done for staying with it and reading all the way to here. Sorry it was long and perhaps a bit of a waffle (you know me!) but think about this post and let it sink in, and maybe you’ll agree with me that this is actually quite significant. If you read MND regularly, you’ll know that I am feel quite strongly that refined sugar is the major #1 poison of our world today. Comfort foods (full of sugar) and alcohol are just about the two most widely used and widely abused anxiety drugs on Earth today. By failing to wash my running top one week, have I inadvertently stumbled on another good reason not to consume refined sugar? Think about it, and if odour has even been a problem for you, or for someone you know and care about, see if cutting out, or at least cutting back, on refined sugar and alcohol can make a difference.

If you have any thoughts on this, please comment below, I’d love to hear from you.

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