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
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.
His 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
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
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
Although 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
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."
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
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
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
raw vegan diet accomplishing the goals more readily than
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.
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
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
The best non-toxic options on the market are sprays based on oil from
the lemon eucalyptus tree, such as Repel Lemon Eucalyptus, he
(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.
(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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