By Howard J. Bennett
If you’re like most kids, you hate it when your mom or dad breathes on you after eating garlic or downing a cup of coffee. However, 90 percent of the bad smells that come from the human body did not originate from food or drinks. Instead, they come from another source entirely—bacteria.
If you haven’t learned about these creatures yet, bacterial are living things that are so small you can’t see them without a powerful microscope. Most bacteria are either harmless or even helpful in some way. For example, termites would not be able to digest wood if not for the bacteria living in their digestive tracts.
As far as humans go, there are more bacteria living on (and in) our bodies than there are people on the Earth. In fact, it is estimated that each of us carts around about a trillion of them. And where in our bodies do these bacteria “settle down” to live? Everywhere!
Although we don’t eat wood like termites, the bacteria in our intestines help us digest our food. These bacteria also release waste products that give poop its awful smell.
Bacteria also cause bad breath and smelly skin. The reason your breath smells fresh after you brush your teeth, and your armpits smell better after you shower is because you have washed away billions of bacterial and their gross byproducts.
Most bacteria like moisture, so sweat plays a key role in how people smell. We have two kinds of sweat glands in our bodies. Eccrine glands work at all ages. Apocrine glands don’t start working until a person enters puberty. The types of bacteria that produce raunchy body odor love to feast on sweat produced by apocrine glands. That’s why an unwashed 7-year-old just smells dirty while an unwashed 14-year-old smells horrible.
Bacteria reproduce very fast. This explains why you can brush your teeth at night and wake up with stinky breath eight hours later. While you slept, the bacteria in your mouth grew.
So the next time you’re inclined to put off some personal hygiene, think of it as a search-and-destroy mission to wipe out the microscopic creatures that are all over your body.
© 2012 Howard J. Bennett. All Rights Reserved.
(First published in the Washington Post 12/15/08.)
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