You don’t need to be a vampire to know that garlic stinks. The pungent vegetable tastes great in pasta sauces or as a pizza topping, but with the unfortunate drawback that it leaves your breath reeking like a dishcloth in an Italian restaurant.
But new research from psychologists in Scotland and the Czech Republic has revealed that eating this most noxious of bulbs could improve your body odor.
Jitka Fialová of Charles University in Prague had men eat a cheese sandwich topped with 6g (approximately 2 cloves) of crushed garlic. The men were forbidden from eating any other foods that might influence their body odor, such as onion, chillies, vinegar, and cabbage. They were also asked to avoid strenuous exercise, sleeping in the same bed as another person, and smoking.
For the next 12 hours, the men wore a cotton pad in their armpit to collect their precious garlicky sweat. The cotton pads were then sealed inside zip-locked plastic bags.
The same men also provided a sweat sample after eating a plain cheese sandwich, as a control.
Fialová invited women to the lab for a sniff-test. They unzipped the plastic bags and got a right noseful of each man’s garlicky and non-garlicky body odor. Each pad was rated on a 7-point scale for its pleasantness, attractiveness, masculinity, and intensity.
In their first experiment, the researchers found no effect of garlic on men’s odor. So they did what any sensible scientist would do: they doubled the dose. Now half of their men took a 1000mg garlic capsule (equivalent to 12g) while the remainder took a placebo capsule.
After overdosing on garlic, men’s odors were rated as more pleasant, more attractive, less masculine, and less intense. The effects were not strong — for example, men’s average attractiveness scores were ˜2.9 without garlic and ˜3.1 with garlic — but the differences were statistically significant.
Garlic is well known for its health benefits. Chowing down on this niffy root promotes proper functioning of the immune system, reduces serum cholesterol, and lowers hypertension. Fialová and her colleagues suggest that the results of their study may be explained by this link between garlic and health. They say:
“Garlic ingestion could affect axillary [armpit] odour indirectly through the antioxidant properties documented in previous studies.”
It is also possible that garlic increases body odor pleasantness because it is antibacterial. The characteristic whiff of a sweaty armpit is caused by bacteria on the surface of the skin. Garlic may destroy these bacteria and thereby reduce body odor intensity. A less intense body odor may also smell more attractive and pleasant.
A study by another team of scientists has shown that infants breastfeed for longer when their mothers have taken garlic capsules.
Fialová, J., Roberts, S. C., & Havlíček, J. (in press). Consumption of garlic positively affects hedonic perception of axillary body odour. Appetite.
Mennella, J. A., & Beauchamp, G. K. (1993). The effects of repeated exposure to garlic-flavored milk on the nursling’s behavior. Pediatric Research, 34(6), 805-808.