The short answer is yes – some women find hormonal changes at this time of life can lead to body odour. Here we explore the phenomenon and take a look at some simple steps to manage it.
As if hot flushes, insomnia and mood swings weren’t enough to deal with, here’s another meno sign that might not be on your radar – body odour. It isn’t an issue for everyone, but it can be troubling if you notice a post-workout whiff that never used to affect you, or a distinctly sweaty smell drifting up from your blouse while you’re in the office.
The first thing to say is that it probably bothers you more than anyone else. We live in a sanitised society in which normal body smells are frowned on, plus some women’s sense of smell is heightened at this time – so you’re probably hyper-aware of it. That said, any changes in your body can be unsettling, and when you’re already adjusting to this big transition, feeling self-conscious about the way you smell can be one more thing to worry about. ‘I sweat and I even think my body odour is different,’ says JulieDenise on our menopause community forum. Here are the common causes and what you can do about them.
Don’t sweat it
As you might expect, an increase in body odour is mainly linked with those pesky vasomotor symptoms – issues caused by the constriction and dilation of blood vessels. Falling oestrogen triggers the hypothalamus, a part of your brain that regulates temperature, to turn up the heating (hello hot flushes!) In response to that, your body produces more sweat, its natural cooling mechanism. Fresh sweat has no odour but as it dries, bacteria starts to feed on it, leading to the tell-tale smell. This is usually focused around sweat-producing areas, namely armpits, groin and feet. It’s also quite common to gain weight at this time, and to find you’re laying down more fat in different places, chiefly around your middle. There can be a number of reasons for this, not all linked with hormones, but either way, carrying additional weight can make you produce more sweat. If you’re bigger breasted, you may find it pooling under your bust.
What you can do:
- Consider your clothing. Sweaty synthetic fibres like nylon and polyester are a no-no. Go for natural, breathable fabrics like cotton and silk. For added confidence, why not choose garments designed to help control menopausal sweating? The Become Anti-Flush Vest, for example, is made of natural, breathable material and is designed to wick away sweat. It also has an anti-microbial finish to control bacteria and odour.
- If it’s your feet that are bothering you, make sure you alternate pairs of shoes, never wearing the same ones two days in a row – this gives them a chance to dry out. In summer, wear open sandals where possible, and go for socks and tights made of natural fibres.
- It goes without saying that hygiene is important – but there’s no need to go overboard. Your daily shower should be lukewarm to avoid triggering flushes, beware of using anything heavily perfumed which might irritate more sensitive skin. It may be worth changing your deodorant – some women find personal hygiene products that used to work for them no longer do at this stage.
- HRT can be helpful if vasomotor symptoms are bothering you. Or you could try gentle plant alternatives if you can’t or don’t want to go down the HRT route – phytoestrogens such as red clover are helpful to some women.
Different down there?
Sweating aside, the smell of your vagina can also change around menopause. As oestrogen falls, you produce lower levels of vaginal mucosa, which feeds its healthy bacteria. Your vaginal walls also start to thin. As a result, the pH level changes, becoming more alkaline, so you may notice a change in odour – not necessarily bad, just different. It’s all normal but if this is bothering you, here are some simple steps you can try.
- Again, choosing natural fabrics is key here. Avoid nylon knickers and switch to breathable cotton pants instead – these will help reduce sweating and lower your chances of odour and thrush.
- Some women say taking probiotic supplements can be helpful. Prebiotic foods – which feed the good bacteria in your gut – are also important. Think high-fibre fruit and veg, which act as a sort of manure for good gut bugs.
- Different smells are to be expected but if you notice any lingering unpleasant odour, and/or symptoms such as discharge, itching or discomfort, it’s time for the GP. Vaginal changes at menopause can also make you more prone to urinary tract infections and vaginitis, which can produce unpleasant smells, so it pays to be vagina-vigilant.