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What Deficiency Causes Foot Odor?

We’ve all experienced it – that unpleasant, vinegary smell emanating from our feet or shoes after a long day. While foot odor is common, especially in the warmer months when feet tend to sweat more, it can still be an embarrassing problem. But what actually causes your feet to smell? The main culprit is a deficiency in certain B vitamins that allow odor-causing bacteria to thrive.

The root of smelly feet lies in our sweat. Sweat itself is virtually odorless when it emerges from sweat glands. The trouble starts when bacteria on our skin begin to rapidly multiply in the warm, moist environment inside shoes and socks and start breaking down sweat. This breakdown process releases acidic compounds like isovaleric acid (giving sweat a cheese-like smell) and propionic acid (producing the odor of vinegar or rotten eggs).

While most body areas harbor harmless bacteria that feed on sweat, our feet host two types of bacteria that are the major contributors to odor: Micrococcus and Corynebacterium. These bacteria’s population sizes are normally kept in check by our immune systems. However, some deficiencies in key B vitamins – specifically B6, B12, and B9 (folic acid) – can weaken immune function in the skin of our feet and lower our defenses.

Why B vitamins though? They play vital interconnected roles in the immune system. Vitamin B6 helps produce antibodies to target infecting microbes. Vitamin B12 is essential for energy metabolism and cell division in white blood cells that fight pathogens. Folic acid aids in the production and function of these protective white blood cells.

Low levels of these B vitamins cause a cascade of immune disruption: fewer white blood cells, reduced antibodies, and impairment of skin structure and renewal. The weakened defenses allow hordes of Micrococcus and Corynebacterium bacteria to overrun the skin of our feet unchecked. The bacterial feeding frenzy on sweat residues ultimately unleashes the noxious foot odor we suffer from.

Certain groups are at higher risk for B vitamin deficiencies that can lead to foot odor:

  • Elderly people – Absorption of B vitamins from food declines with age. Older adults also have fewer nutrient reserves.
  • Individuals with digestive disorders – Conditions like celiac, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis hinder B vitamin absorption from foods.
  • People on medication – Certain antacids, blood pressure drugs and cholesterol medications interfere with B vitamin metabolism.

So how can you combat stinky feet? Improving B vitamin status through diet or supplements helps strengthen immune function. Probiotics can restore healthy skin bacteria. Using antibacterial foot soaps, changing socks regularly, and keeping feet dry also helps control odor-causing bacteria. Finally, avoiding closed-toe shoes allows better air circulation to discourage bacterial growth.

The next time your shoes or feet emit an eye-watering stench, you’ll know the real underlying cause. Boosting crucial B vitamins can get your foot odor under control and get your step back to sweet smelling!