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Popular Science: Do you want to be more attractive to delicate female noses? Take a dose of garlic!

Garlic is one of the favourite ingredients in within Euro-Asian cuisines, giving food a special pungent, spicy flavor and a bit of sweetness. It is a product also well-recognized for its medical purposes, and already Ancient Egyptians used garlic and onion regularly to promote good health. However, all the goodness brought to a human comes to the death point we try a kiss after a meal full of this ingredient. The garlic breath coming out of the mouth can be unbearable. But what about the regular body odour, mostly of the axillary origin? Every single one of us has some, and it can be perceived by the others either pleasantly or unpleasantly, depending also on person’s diet.

A Czech–British team of experts, including Mgr. Jitka Fialová from the Zoology Department of Faculty of Science, the Charles University in Prague, has performed an experimental testing in order to find out how actually garlic consumption can affect perceptions of axillary body odour. The experiment consisted of three studies, varying the amount and the nature of garlic consumed.

Odour donors, consisting of 42 men in total (mostly students from our University), were further selected into three studies. For all studies, men were subsequently divided randomly to two groups in which second one ate a placebo product.  In the first study, men in A group ate 6g of crushed garlic mixed with fresh cheese on a slice of bread, those in B group ate a slice of bread with fresh cheese only. In the second study, this dosage of 6g was doubled, to test the effect of dosage. And finally, in the third study, donors in group A ate 12 capsules of 1000 mg of garlic, while those in group B received a placebo (capsules with soybean oil only).

As the kind of dosage (placebo or garlic) was swapped a week after, both groups were exposed to both conditions. The day before sampling and during the experiment, donors were asked to meet several conditions, e.g. not using shower gels or perfumes, not eating meals with chilli, onion and other spicy food, or refrain from drinking any alcoholic beverages. Experiment took place throughout the night, when in the late afternoon donors received their garlic dosage (or placebo) and subsequently were given a cotton pad to wear in their armpits. After wearing these pads for 12 following hours, donors put the pads into zip-lock bags and handed these back to the lab.

Ratings in the three studies were made by groups of 14, 40 and 28 women respectively. All were using hormonal contraception, to avoid changes in olfactory perception during the regular menstrual cycle. Raters then rated pads received from the donors, in a quiet ventilated room. They always rated these in pairs of samples from the garlic and non-garlic condition of a particular donor. Raters were asked to rate male body odour samples on a 7-point scale for their (i) pleasantness, (ii) attractiveness, (iii) masculinity and (iv) intensity.

After the statistical analysis it became obvious that garlic has a surprisingly positive effect to the perception of axillar odour. While in study 1 no significant effect of garlic consumption was found (6g fresh crushed garlic), women raters decided that odour of donors from study two (the doubled portion of a fresh garlic dosage) was significantly more pleasant, attractive, masculine and less intense compared to control conditions. The robustness of findings from study 2 was subsequently confirmed in study 3 (with garlic capsules), where mostly the effect of increase in attractiveness was found, and as above lower intensity as well.

Interestingly, previous studies found that infants stay attached to the breast and consume more milk when nursing mother consumed garlic capsules. Authors of our study here suggests, that this might be explained by an improved quality of odour and flavor of breast milk for infants in a similar way as occurred in their study with axillary odour. But why there is so obvious difference in between so unpleasant breath and, on the other hand, clearly pleasant (and moreover attractive) body odour? This is because of the compounds after allicin, sulphur containing gases, which seemingly did not apply to the body odour. This breath odour is right after garlic ingestion and therefore originates from the mouth, but also subsequently from the gut (so that’s why tooth brushing doesn’t really help!).

Authors of this study further suggests that ‘health benefits could lead to increased odour pleasantness’. Already previous studies described the positive medical effect of a garlic consumption – beneficial as antioxidant, also immunostimulant and cardiovascular, but garlic may also play a significant role in the defence against free radical-mediated disorders. Another possible way of positively influencing the body odour is the capability of garlic to act as an antibacterial agent. The consumption might therefore reduce density of bacterial microflora which is known for inhabiting human skin (e.g. Acinetobacter, Staphylococcus) or at least change the structure of bacterial community, decreasing the intensity of body odour which is usually negatively correlated with attractiveness and pleasantness ratings.  

There are always two sides of a coin, and not always is clear what side is better to take. With no doubt, breath odour plays a crucial role in most social interactions, however, axillary body odour is certainly an important factor in intimate relationships, as authors wisely recall. To smell or not to smell? Not that easy at all!


Fialová J, Roberts SC, Havlíček J (2016). Consumption of garlic positively affects hedonic perception of axillary body odour. Appetite97, 8-15.

Petra Vinšová

Published: Jan 05, 2017 01:50 AM

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