Why Do Your Feet Stink?

During a recent family visit, a subject came up that all moms and sisters end up discussing…stinky feet. In particular, one of my sisters believes hers are exceptionally stinky. She even confessed that she replaces her shoes before they wear out because they emanate a less-than-desirable aroma.

Then she posed the question, “Why do some people’s feet stink more than others?” Hmmm, this self-healther’s interest was piqued immediately. Thanks, Sis!

First things first, what causes foot odor?

Over at the great website How Stuff Works, they remind us that our skin is home to loads of bacteria. Two types live on our feet: Staphylococcus epidermidis and Bacillus subtilis. They both adore the warm, sweaty environment that our feet cultivate within our socks and shoes.

While socks offer the perfect living quarters, the sweat from the eccrine glands in your feet provide the amino acid leucine, and this serves as the bacteria’s nourishment. After consuming leucine, the bacterium creates a gassy byproduct called isovaleric acid. This acid creates the odor we associate with both stinky feet and stinky cheese.

So, do some people have stinkier feet than others?

Different bacteria produce different odors. One may have a hint of vinegar (courtesy of the bacteria listed above), while another may have a more sulfuric scent. The latter smell would be thanks to a bacterium called Brevibacterium linens. If you find certain aromas more offensive than others, you may perceive that your feet are more stinky than others.

Certain circumstances can make your feet produce more sweat than the typical one cup per day. For instance, hormonal teenagers and pregnant women tend to sweat more. Athlete’s foot can also make your feet smell a certain way—it’s caused by a fungus after all.

Should you feel your foot odor is truly over the top, it could be a sign of something bigger. The condition known as hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating) can indicate an imbalance in your endocrine system. If you have extreme foot odor, it may be time to visit your holistic health care provider for some blood tests. While I’m sure this isn’t the case for my sister, it could be a factor for other people reading this.

Until you figure out the cause of your stinky feet and shoes, what can you do about it?

  • Clean and thoroughly dry your feet every day, especially between those toes.
  • Wear cotton or wool socks. Unlike nylon socks, cotton and wool are better at wicking moisture away from your skin.
  • Rotate wearing several pairs of shoes so each pair can air out between uses.
  • Try ultraviolet shoe inserts to sterilize your shoes between uses.
  • Use a natural foot powder.
  • Try a foot soak. This gives you an excuse to sit and relax while combatting your foot odor. Win, win, if you ask me.

My research proves once again that the human body is a fascinating and complex system with no pointless aspects. Yes, our feet stink. Yes, some feet stink more than others. And yes, you can take action to avoid being known as the sister with the stinkiest feet. Unless you’re excited by that claim to fame. I’ll love you no matter what.

Photo from istock/ MaxRiesgo

Paula Widish

Paula Widish, author of “Trophia: Simple Steps to Everyday Self-Health”, is a freelance writer and self-healther. She loves nothing more than sharing tidbits of information she has discovered with those who are interested. (Actually, she loves her family more than that—and probably bacon too.) Paula has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Public Relations and is a Certified Professional Life Coach through International Coach Academy. To get in touch with her, leave a message here or check out her website at PaulaWidish.com

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