Sage and Body Odor

Are there any herbal solutions for body odor?

Cancer, heart disease, AIDS – there’s no serious illness to which herbalists haven’t proposed a treatment, and the same may be said of the more minor ills as well. The compendium of herbal remedies issued by the German Commission E – the most widely used list of herbal treatments published by any Western government – includes directions for using the herb sage to treat body odor. That’s of interest to the chemically sensitive and anyone else who wants to smell sweeter while avoiding the sort of deodorants and antiperspirants sold in drug stores.

Perspiration itself is normally odorless and serves a natural function in helping the body regulate temperature. When bacteria populating the skin decompose the perspiration, they create byproducts, which are the source of the odor. Thus, cleanliness and hygiene are essential for preventing this problem. Most deodorants inhibit the growth of bacteria. If you’ve tried a lot of deodorants and antiperspirants to no avail, there may be other causes of your problem. An article in the February 1999 issue of Cutis, reviewing the available research on body odor, explains that the problem also may be caused by sweat containing high levels of food substances, such as garlic or other constituents from spicy foods.

An undesirable scent can also be caused by zinc deficiency, liver disease, diabetes or gastrointestinal disorders that lead to poor or incomplete digestion, according to the researchers. These possible causes should be ruled out by a health care provider. If you’ve done what you can with soap and water and still want to improve your aroma without using a commercial product, Commission E recommends sage leaf (Salvia officinalis). The herb can be taken internally in a variety of forms and externally as an undiluted alcohol extract. Commission E gives the following dosages: as a whole herb, 4 to 6 grams daily; as an essential oil, 0.1 to 0.3 grams daily; as a tincture, 2.5 to 7.5 grams daily; or as a fluid extract, 1.5 to 3 grams daily.

If using externally, daub the alcohol extract under the arms. The only contraindication the commission gives to sage leaf is that pure essential oils and extracts containing alcohol should not be taken during pregnancy. As for possible side effects, prolonged use of alcohol extracts or essential oils can lead to convulsions, though this is rare. But does sage really fight body odor? According to herbalists, sage will reduce perspiration. The herb is also touted as a treatment for everything from mouth cancer to gray hair. So far there have been few attempts to investigate any of these claims scientifically.

Pharmacists at Komenskeho University in the Slovak Republic reported in 1996 that they had found compounds in sage that kill the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus. And in 1991, researchers writing in the Bulletin of the Tokyo Dental College reported that sage could interfere with the enzymes used by bacteria in the mouth to attack the gums. But a search of the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s database found no studies confirming that sage will stop sweat or smell. So for the time being, consumers will have to rely on the traditional lore of herbalists – and the official thumbs up from the German government – in deciding whether the wisest approach to body odor is a sage one.

Author: William Collinge