Is there anything worse than kicking off your shoes at the end of a long day and being greeted by the noxious odor of smelly feet? As awful as it is, smelly feet are a common problem that plague even the most hygienic among us from time to time. But what causes that foul foot funk in the first place? And what does it have to do with your hormones?
As it turns out, there very well may be a link between hormone levels and excessively smelly feet. By understanding what’s happening biologically, you can get to the root of the odor issue and do something about it.
The Sweat and Odor Connection
Everyone has sweat glands in their feet that help regulate temperature and moisture. When your feet sweat, that perspiration creates the ideal environment for bacteria and fungi to multiply rapidly. Those microbes then feed on the sweat, dead skin cells, and oils on your feet, releasing trans-3-methyl-2 hexenoic acid – also known as that infamously noxious foot odor – as a metabolic waste product.
So if you sweat more, you’ll likely battle stinkier feet. That’s why factors ranging from exercise and stress to health issues like hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating) can all contribute to increased foot odor. Hormonal changes also directly impact how much your feet perspire.
Estrogen, Progesterone, and Sweating
In women, fluctuating estrogen and progesterone levels during puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, and perimenopause/menopause can trigger hot flashes, temperature sensitivity, and increased sweating (including pesky sweaty feet). This hormonal connection may explain why teenage girls often report battling stinky feet during puberty. The feet – already home to more sweat glands than anywhere else on the body – become inundated with hormonally charged perspiration. Add the bacteria boom it fuels and – voilà! – smelly feet strike again.
Later in adulthood, women may develop troublesome foot odor before or during their periods when estrogen dips and then soars back up. And during the rollercoaster hormonal changes of perimenopause and menopause, excessive foot sweat and odor can become an annoying recurring issue for some women. Even birth control pills can influence feet by controlling hormones that govern temperature regulation and sweat production.
Meanwhile for most men, who experience fewer hormone fluctuations than women throughout life, foot odor correlates more consistently to lifestyle factors than hormonal changes. However, lower testosterone levels associated with aging or health conditions may promote increased sweating and subsequent foot odor in some men.
Treating Hormonal Foot Odor at Its Root Cause
If hormone imbalance is behind your stinky feet, addressing those fluctuating hormones may help reduce related foot perspiration and odor issues. Tracking your cycles and noting when smellier feet occur can help identify a hormonal link. A doctor can run tests to diagnose common hormone imbalances tied to foot odor like perimenopause, menopause, puberty, thyroid dysfunction, and diabetes. In some cases, they may prescribe hormone therapy – such as hormone creams, birth control, or hormone-modulating medications – designed specifically to regulate hormonal levels and address related symptoms like sweaty, smelly feet.
Certain lifestyle changes can also help normalize hormones for less sweaty soles. Reducing stress through yoga, meditation, or counseling has worked wonders for some. Maintaining a healthy diet and weight, quitting smoking, decreasing alcohol consumption, and improving sleep quality can balance some hormones too. Even avoiding tight shoes and moisture-wicking socks allows your feet to breath and stay drier throughout hormonal swings.
No matter the cause of your foot odor, good hygiene remains essential for keeping feet (and hormones!) less fragrant. Change your socks daily, wash feet with antibacterial soap, use foot powder to reduce moisture, treat shoes with disinfecting sprays, exfoliate callouses where bacteria hide, clip nail fungi, and give feet plenty of air. Be sure to see your doctor if smelly feet persist so any underlying hormone imbalance can be properly diagnosed and managed for good foot health.
With some diligent foot care and attention to those fluctuating hormones, you can bid farewell to foul foot odors for good – no matter your stage of life! Keep your hormones balanced and your feet will smell as sweet as they look.