Medical Causes of Body Odor in Older People

By Andrea Carson

Medications and certain types of foods can cause body odors in people of any age. However, body odors in older people who also have underlying medical problems are more noticeable due to natural changes in the body that occur with aging. Body odor in older people results from an increase of palmitoleic acid and lipid peroxides produced by an increase of fatty acid decomposition that combines with bacteria on the skin.

Stomach Problems

Due to a lessening of hydrochloric acid over the years, older people tend to have digestive problems. “Hypochlorhydria” is the medical term for this condition. Estimates are that about 13 percent of hydrochloric acid is lost every 10 years. This loss results in food that remains in the body causing the overgrowth of bacteria resulting in food fermentation and decomposition. Problems that occur from hypochlorhydria include bad breath, gastro-esophageal reflux disease, or “GERD,” excessive gas, candidiasis—an overgrowth of yeast in the body, and irritable bowel syndrome also known as “IBS." All of these can lead to unpleasant body odor.

Gallstones

People over the age of 60 are at higher risk of developing gallstones regardless of lifestyle, and women are two times more likely to develop gallstones than men. Individuals who take cholesterol-lowering drugs and diabetics are also in a high-risk category.

Gallstones form when an excess of bile and/or a combination of bile and cholesterol collects in the liver. Bile assists the body in the digestion of fats and improper elimination of bile will result in causing the body to smell like rotten eggs.

Cholecystitis is the result of inflammation of the gall bladder and causes a bad taste in the mouth, bad breath and excess body odor along with foul-smelling, light-colored stools.

Reduced Kidney Functions

Renal or kidney failure happens when toxins are not metabolized and eliminated from the body during urination. Older people are most likely to have a reduction of kidney functions which can lead to kidney disease. The reduction of kidney function or a related problem called “Uremia” will cause the breath or urine to emit an ammonia-like odor and can also create an ammonia or urine smell on the body.

Diminished Enzyme Production

The ability of the body to create the enzymes necessary to metabolize food diminishes with age and results in the release of toxins through the skin via sweat glands. In older people who can no longer produce the necessary enzymes, consuming organic compounds such as onions, garlic or curry will result in odors from those compounds permeating the skin. Most commonly, odors from metabolic imbalances smells like fish, gas, garbage, burnt rubber, rotten eggs or feces.

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