V. Vemuri


Odors play a complex role in our lives. The nasal sensory organs of humans contain well over 10 million olfactory receptors in a region high in the nasal passages. Odor is the sensation of smell caused when this olfactory cleft is stimulated by gases and vapors. This sense of smell is important in the enjoyment of food, the attraction of one person to another, and in evaluating the cleanliness of our surroundings. Seven of the 32 basic odors have been identified positively: camphoraceous, musky, floral, pepperminty, ethereal, pungent, and putrid.

The way one perceives odor is subjective; what may appeal to one person may nauseate another. What may be a pleasant odor in one context may be revolting in another. The aroma wafting from a fresh loaf of bread or a fresh pot of coffee carries a heavenly message to the person getting up from bed, while the lingering odors from cooking or smoking are certainly not welcomed by everyone. Although one odor may seem more pleasant than another, virtually all odors become unpleasant when perceived in high concentrations. Whereas words like aroma and flavor leave a positive impression, odor somehow leaves the feeling that it is an undesirable scent. Scientists use the word malodor when they mean an undesirable scent. Malodors can signal poor, and sometimes unsafe conditions.


Baking soda and charcoal are two common substances to help in our battle to control undesirable household odors. Many keep an open container of baking soda in the refrigerator to control food odors. Did you know that pieces of charcoal in small shallow open containers will absorb more odors better than an open box of baking soda? Charcoal can be used to control odors in other parts of the house too. If you are a smoker, try charcoal to remove tobacco odor; make sure you place the open charcoal containers out of reach of children and pets and replace the charcoal periodically for best results.


Every adult, from head to foot, has a unique scent; it is almost like a fingerprint. It is by this scent a bloodhound recognizes the criminal it's tracking. Infants recognize their mother by this smell. No amount of washing or perfumes can disguise this smell.

When people talk about body odor, they mean "bad" smells coming from the mouth, underarms, genital area, and feet. Bad breath, or halitosis, is usually the result of salivary juices acting on particles of left over food trapped in the mouth. Washing the mouth after eating, regular brushing, and flossing are normally sufficient to control this kind of odor. Certain foods such as onion and garlic, as well as tobacco and alcohol, produce odors that linger on in the mouth despite brushing. But chronically bad mouth odors may be due to dental and gum diseases or due to an infection of the sinus cavity.


Lilies of the kitchen, they are called. Onions and garlic belong to the lily family. Sure, they do not smell like lilies; in fact, garlic has long been better known as the stinking rose. Garlic has the added reputation to ward off viruses, bacteria, vampires as well as neighbors. It is especially notorious because garlic enters the body through the mouth and its odor exits through the skin. This is why it is so difficult to tolerate, even the proximity, of heavy garlic eaters. If you think that my opinion is biased, let us see what others think. "Eat no onions nor garlic, for we are to utter sweet breath" is Shakespeare's prescription to bad breath. "Lest your kissing should be spoiled, Your onions must be thoroughly boiled" is the more humane prescription from Jonathan Swift.

In spite of this bad billing, garlic is considered good for your health. After all, there is some wisdom in the age-old Telugu proverb, "ulli chesina melu talli kooda cheyyaledu," which means that "even a mother cannot help the way a garlic can." Is there any truth in the belief that garlic can ward off viruses and bacteria? Dr. Benjamin Lau, M. D., Ph.D. of the Loma Linda University School of Medicine, an institution run by Seventh Day Adventists, a religious group who neither smoke nor drink and many of whom are vegetarians, believes that garlic is effective against viruses, bacteria, spirochetes, molds, yeasts, and parasites. There is also a general belief that garlic is useful in lowering the blood cholesterol level as well as in controlling hypertension.

Does this mean that we have to smell bad to feel good? Some believe that the chemicals in garlic that smell bad are the same chemicals that carry its curative properties. But, Dr. Isao Sakai, an agricultural scientist from Japan disagrees. He, who holds dozens of patents on odor control, took more than a decade to develop a method of producing a "sociable garlic." Sakai's patented discovery consists of a special solution containing "natural silica and organic plant sources" that neutralizes the substance in garlic that reacts with body chemicals to produce odor on the breath. In the United States this product and process are approved by the Food and Drug Administration, a watchdog government agency. The process consists of placing garlic bulbs in wire baskets and lowering them into large vats of Dr. Sakai's special solution. After soaking for two or three days the bulbs are dried. Nothing is added to the bulbs, only the odor causing ingredients are removed. This process appears to solve the problem of those who love garlic in their foods and who also wish that their friends love them too. Another effective way of combating mouth odors resulting from foods is to chew green leafy stuff high in chlorophyll - a natural breath freshener. Perhaps this is the scientific reason behind the Indian custom of chewing pan after a meal.


Indeed, Kyolic garlic, in capsule form, has no odor at all. If you are only interested in the health benefits of garlic but do not care much for its taste, then this is the way to go. For more on this topic, consult the informative book "Garlic for Health" published by Lotus Light Publications, Wilmot, Wisconsin.


Body odor below the neck line is primarily due to perspiration; we sweat about a pint on an average day. But sweat, which is produced by the apocrine glands, has no odor; it is 99% water with traces of salt. When exposed to air, it quickly evaporates. However, clothing or high humidity reduces evaporation. Then waste products of certain bacteria on the skin mix with sweat, and that produces bad smell.

Combating this malodor is a major challenge faced by the manufacturers of cosmetics and perfumes. One problem is that male and female underarm scents differ; men's are muskier. Another problem is that scent glands differ from race to race; in Japan, underarm scent is so rare it is considered a disease. The perspiration produced by underarms and genital areas is particularly attractive to odor producing bacteria. George Pretti of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia analyzed the bacterial wastes and isolated more than three dozen chemical compounds that can be odiferous. The biggest culprit among these is the compound with a mouthful of name -- 3-methyl-2-hexenoic acid. Of the two-types of skin bacteria that feast on the secretions from the apocrine glands, the one that produces the strongest and most pungent odor is affectionately called, lipophilic diphtheroids. Why do scientists choose to work on the excretions of such bizarre creatures? You see, fragrance manufacturers are desperate for the molecular model of the chemical that produces the offending body odor. Using these models they can test new formulas for deodorant ingredients that more effectively block bad body odors.

How do you combat the lingering foot odor that is left in the shoes long after the dirty sox are removed? An old fashioned way is to stuff the offending shoes with small cotton bags filled with bits of charcoal. A fancier and more expensive method is to buy Odor Zappers, bags filled with a mineral of the zeolite family, being marketed in the United States. The chemical absorbs both the moisture and the odor. The bags can be regenerated by hanging them in the sun for a couple of days.

Regular bathing with soap and water and regular changing of clothes and sox is the best method of controlling body odor. Alternatively, avoid wearing tight fitting clothes made with synthetic fabrics that cannot "breathe." Deodorants, like aluminum chloro-hydrates, isopropyl palmitates, and cyclomethicones that make up most of the cosmetic roll-ons and sprays, can help by slowing bacterial growth. Anti-perspirants can also help by blocking sweat ducts. Recently, a new product, called Le Crystal Natureal, made in France, entered the U. S. market place. It is a natural mineral rock - processed into consumer sized bars. Simply moistening and rubbing the rock against the skin helps kill odor causing bacteria. A 6-ounce stone costs $15 and lasts about an year, say the promoters of the product. If this sounds like a bit too much to your budget, gently rubbing the body with a handful of clean soft copra will just do the trick as well. Perhaps there is some wisdom in our age old custom of taking a weekly "oil" or abhyangana bath. The process of applying oil and subsequently removing it with a paste made out of coarse rice flour is India's Le Powder Natureal sans Madison Avenue.

Heavy reliance on any of the chemicals is not advisable. Moderate use of perfumes in conjunction with good daily hygiene is perhaps a good solution to the body odor problem. Remember, it is neither possible nor desirable to try to completely eliminate body odors. You don't want to kill helpful bacteria on the skin while trying to kill the harmful ones. Some olfactory researchers at England's Warwick University recently found that a compound in sweat, Osmone 1, actually works as a substitute for a tranquilizer. Finally, what if future researchers tell us that odor producing chemicals on the human body also contain pheromones, the chemicals that attract the opposite sex! Clearly, there is more to this than meets the nose.



Thursday the 8th, May 1997