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Repel Mosquitos with Health

We generally try to repel mosquitos with sprays, but what if I told you health may be a more reliable method of keeping their bites at bay?

My first inkling that I'd somehow become less attractive to mosquitos was around age 18. Over the previous year I'd shed 30 pounds, and back as a summer camp counselor, I found mosquitos just weren't coming after me like they had the year before. I didn't have an explanation, but figured my weight loss must have played into it somehow.

Turns out I was right, but it wasn't simply the fat I was no longer carrying around.

Repel Mosquitos By Losing Weight

In the 1990s, chemist Ulrich Bernier, now employed in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service, began searching for what attracts mosquitos to humans.

Repel Mostuitos FeastHis research showed they're drawn by a potpourri of common compounds, the most important one being carbon dioxide, which we expel through our mouth and skin as a waste product.

Simply put, the greater a person's mass, the more carbon dioxide they expel. This spreads through the air and can catch the attention of mosquitos from great distances, sending them toward a person. Adults expel more than children, and the overweight expel more than the trim.

Detecting carbon dioxide is the first step in a mosquito's hunt, but when they get closer they're are other factors at play.

Repel Mosquitos With Lower Body Temperature

After mosquitos get close, the rely on a number of inputs when choosing a target, said, Joe Conlon, technical adviser to the American Mosquito Control Association.

Warmth is a big draw, he said, as is sweat, which our body uses to cool off, but which also carries our smell into the air.

As I discuss in The Raw Food Lifestyle, I've conducted some unscientific polls of long-term low fat raw foodists, and the majority report body temperatures considerably below what is considered the healthy adult norm of 97.2 to 99.5 degrees (2). As I sit writing this in the middle of the summer, my thermometer tells me my body temperature is 95.2 degrees.

Repel Mosquitos SweatAlthough it's only a few degrees off, the difference means my body works less to keep cool, and therefore sweats less. I've certainly noticed I don't sweat nearly as much as I used to when exercising.

Although no studies he's aware of have been done on the relationship between mosquitos and people with lower-than-average body temperature, Conlon said a connection was certainly possibility.

Repel Mosquitos With A Better Diet

Unfortunately for us, our stench plays a significant role in attracting mosquitos, Conlon said.

Each person's body odor is in part a matter of genetics, but so too is it controlled by diet.

Although there's no guarantee mosquitos and women perceive smells in the same way, at least one study showed meat consumption increases the body odor of men (as perceived by women) while simultaneously causing the smell to be judged as significantly less attractive and less pleasant compared to those not consuming meat (2).

As I improved my diet, my body odor decreased considerably, at least according to my own nose and those of the girls I was dating when I went first vegan and then raw. I also gave up deodorant because as I just don't need it anymore.

There are numerous smells that known to attract mosquitos, Conlon said.

"Limberger cheese is a big attractant," he said. "Indeed, they're attracted to dirty feet and body odor in general - there's a reason you want to wash."Repel Mosquitos BO Smell

The body gives off over 300 compounds which can be combined in numerous ways to make smells, Conlon said, and researchers have not even begun to grapple with which combinations mosquitos like best, or how diet ties into the smells given off.

However, "One of the things mosquitos are looking for in the blood meal is cholesterol," he said.  "And ticks are definitely looking for cholesterol. If you have a higher plasma cholesterol level, that's more amenable."

So how do you get lower blood cholesterol levels? The human body produces its own cholesterol, but levels are elevated to unnatrual heights by the consumption of animal-based foods. Altering your diet to exclude meat, dairy and eggs has been shown to significantly reduce blood cholesterol levels (3).

After three and a half years on a raw vegan diet, and with several years before that on a vegan diet, I dropped from a total cholesterol count of 180 down to 136. Not too shabby.

Repel Mosquitos With Regulated Blood Sugar?

I recently talked to former coworker who is a type 1 diabetic. He spent the summers of his college years working at a camp for diabetic children, and he and his fellow counselors picked up on something interesting - they always knew which kids had failed to take enough insulin to address their sugar intake, he said, because mosquitos would favor these children and swarm around them. He surmised mosquitos find high blood sugar levels desirable and have some means of detecting it.

Since the low-fat diet I follow allows sugar to move easily from the blood to the cells, while a high-fat one slows this movement, I wondered if there might be a connection there to my decrease in mosquito bites.

Conlon said he didn't have any reason to believe high blood sugar levels would be extra attractive, but the state of ketogenesis - when the body starts burning fat because it can't get enough sugar to fuel its cells - might be. When certain keytones are released, they might repel mosquitos or draw them in, he said.

Repel Mosquitos: Getting Practical

So let's review: being trim and reducing body odor, blood cholesterol, and body temperature all seem to play a part in limiting your attractiveness to mosquitos.

What brings about these things? A healthy diet and lifestyle do the trick, with a low fat raw vegan diet accomplishing the goals more readily than others.

Of course, this won't stop bites completely. It's not so much that you repel mosquitos as that you've made yourself a less tempting target. I primarily notice the difference when I'm outside in a group.

Repel Mosquitos

The overweight, more odor-prone, more sweaty people I'm with - labels that apply partially to every SAD dieter I know - get bitten way more than I do.

When I'm alone on a hike, I'm not bitten as much as I was when I was overweight and eating unhealthy foods, but the difference is not as dramatic.

Even if you give yourself an advantage through healthy living, Conlon said you're still going to need some sort of repellent if you want to stay bite-free.

The best non-toxic options on the market are sprays based on oil from the lemon eucalyptus tree, such as Repel Lemon Eucalyptus, he said. 

Repel Mosquitos: Following Up

Read how you can easily lose weight on a raw food diet.

If you want to repel mosquitos, you might be interested in shedding your BO.

Repel Mosquitos: Sources

(1) Mackowiak, P. A.; S. S. Wasserman, M. M. Levine (1992-09-23). "A critical appraisal of 98.6 degrees F, the upper limit of the normal body temperature, and other legacies of Carl Reinhold August Wunderlich". JAMA 268 (12): 1578–1580. doi:10.1001/jama.268.12.1578.

(2) Havlicek J, Lenovhova P. "The effect of meat consumption on body odor attractiveness." Chem Senses. 2006 Oct;31(8):747-52. Epub 2006 Aug 4.

(3) Tang JL, Armitage JM, Lancaster T, Silagy CA, Fowler GH, Neil HA (April 1998). "Systematic review of dietary intervention trials to lower blood total cholesterol in free-living subjects". BMJ 316 (7139): 1213–20. PMID 9552999. PMC 28525.

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