7 Gross Health Issues & How To Fix 'Em

There are things we can talk about with our friends, like our split ends or our overgrown cuticles. And then, there are the things we just don’t. Call it “polite conversation,” but dealing with bad breath and body odor aren't always the easiest to discuss. Still, we were curious about how to tackle our gross (and common!) health issues, and we bet you are, too. So, we spoke to Dr. Bola Oyeyipo, MD, and Dr. Deanna Hope Berman, a naturopathic doctor, to get the best medical and holistic remedies for these common health issues. It’s not glamorous, but we know you’re dying to find out.
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Illustrated by Ammiel Mendoza.

At one point or another, most of us have experienced snowflake-like dusting on our shoulders. Although a persistently itchy, flaky scalp can feel like a major problem, most dandruff is basically just a case of dry skin.

“If you don’t keep the scalp moisturized, it gets dry and flaky,” explains Dr. Oyeyipo. To keep your scalp from flaking, “reduce washing to once or twice a week, and moisturize the scalp.” You can directly apply a store-bought product like Moroccanoil Dry Scalp Treatment to your roots, or make a homemade treatment with a mix of tea tree oil, rosemary oil, and kitchen-grade coconut oil. If you have a dry scalp but oily hair, switch to a shampoo with tea-tree oil (we like this one from Kiehl's), which will mitigate oil production while relieving dandruff.

Dr. Berman also suggests adding more oil into your diet, to help moisturize from the inside out. The same supplements that promote glowing skin can help to soothe an itchy, flaky scalp — so increase your intake of essential fatty acids, like fish oil or evening primrose oil, to keep your scalp as healthy as your skin.

It's also possible that your dandruff is the result of seborrhoeic dermatitis — a fairly common inflammatory skin disorder that's possibly caused by an overgrowth of yeast on the skin. It is characterized by scaling on the scalp and pimple-like inflammation on the chest, hairline, and back. Using an OTC antifungal shampoo can help to address symptoms. And, you should check in with your dermatologist if your symptoms don't subside with time.
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Illustrated by Ammiel Mendoza.
Bad Breath

Sometimes, you can trace your bad breath back to that garlic-and-onion pizza. But, if you’re noticing bad breath throughout the day or when you first wake up, it could signal something more insidious.

“A lot of times, bad breath is caused by gum infection,” says Dr. Oyeyipo. Since periodontal disease is relatively common in adults, check with your dentist to make sure your breath isn’t a sign of a serious problem. To prevent the onset of gum infection, gargle daily with a mouthwash that specifically protects against gingivitis, and use a water pik to flush out your gums.

And, while oil pulling has gained some serious traction of late, studies haven’t shown it to be more effective in killing off bacteria than regular ol’ mouthwash.

Dr. Berman says that bad breath could also be the result of a sinus congestion or post-nasal drip depositing bacteria into the mouth. If this is the issue, use an antihistamine to dry up the area and keep it clear from bacteria. If you notice bad breath, resist the urge to reach for a breath mint. Instead, chew a gum with Xylitol, which is anti-bacterial and can prevent future infections.

“And, obviously,” says Dr. Oyeyipo, “brush your teeth twice a day.” The more often you brush and floss, the more often you’re flushing bacteria out of your mouth.
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Illustrated by Ammiel Mendoza.

Few problems are less “polite” than the topic of flatulence, or gassiness, in your bowels. “This basically happens when there’s dysbiosis or an imbalance in the gastrointestinal flora,” says Dr. Berman. The feeling of gassiness comes from the gurgling of food digesting in your large intestine, which can signal a digestive problem. For some people, Dr. Berman also recommends “digestive enzymes, like products with glutamine or capsules of oregano oil.”

Dr. Oyeyipo also says to pay attention to which foods trigger gassiness. Some foods — like beans, broccoli, cabbage, milk, and even meat — commonly prompt gassiness. High-fiber foods are notorious culprits. In humans, fibers are indigestible. But, with a little help from our gut bacteria, we are able to derive nutrition from some previously indigestible material. Bacteria in your intestine release enzymes that break these carbs down into simple sugars, which are in turn fermented in the gut and transformed into short-chain fatty acids that human cells are able to absorb. But, as anyone who has accidentally left a sealed plastic jug of juice out to "ferment" knows, the byproduct of fermentation is a build-up of gas.

Your gut bacteria also thrives on certain sugars, like lactose. Because people with lactose intolerance lack the enzyme to break down lactose, this sugar instead sits in the gut and is broken down by bacteria, resulting in gas and diarrhea. If your triggers are things like dairy, it could be a sign of lactose intolerance and that you may want to cut it from your diet.
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Illustrated by Ammiel Mendoza.

There are few things that can wipe your confidence like raising your arm to reveal a big, wet pit stain. Sweating, of course, is normal — but if you’re sweating a lot, both Dr. Oyeyipo and Dr. Berman say the issue could suggest a hormonal imbalance. Dr. Oyeyipo recommends a lab test to check if hormone levels need to be "stabilized," since excessive sweating can be a sign of either androgen overproduction or an estrogen deficiency.

You have two kinds of sweat glands on your body — eccrine glands and apocrine glands — both with distinct functions. Eccrine glands cover the body and are mostly involved in maintaining body temperature — this sweat is mostly comprised of water, salt, and trace elecrolytes. Apocrine glands, on the other hand, are mostly found in hair-follicle-dense areas of the body, such as your scalp, pubic hair, and underarms, and secrete a fatty sweat. Bacterial growth on the skin acts on this perspiration, breaking it down. The byproduct is body odor.

Sometimes body odor can be hereditary. In fact, one study found that 2% of people don't produce any body odor at all. On the other hand, Trimethylaminuria (TMAU), also known by the unfortunate name "fish odor syndrome," is a recessive genetic disorder in which individuals cannot break down trimethylamine, resulting in a strong fishy odor emanating from the breath and sweat. It's considered a rare condition, though one 2011 study conducted on 358 individuals with idiopathic malodor (essentially, they smelled bad for unknown reasons) found that one-third tested positive for the mutation.

But, if you fall in the genetic middle, you're best bet is simply to clean yourself when you notice body odor. Use soap, water, and a washcloth to wash your entire body, focusing on areas with high apocrine-gland density. Follow this up with a deodorant if you're so inclined, and remember that a little body odor is kinda unavoidable.
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Illustrated by Ammiel Mendoza.
Urinary Tract Infections

Urinary tract infections are among the most common bodily infections — which is awful, since having them means that it hurts to pee as much as it hurts not to pee. And, since women’s urethras are shorter than men’s, they’re especially common in women.

Urinary tract infections are caused by bacteria that find their way into the bladder. To prevent them, Dr. Oyeyipo says to up your water intake so that you’re flushing out your bladder more often. “Empty your bladder as often as you need to and wipe from front to back, not the other way around, so as not to transfer bacteria from the back end to the front end.”

Dr. Berman says it’s also important to identify when you get them. If they crop up following sex, it’s likely an issue with vaginal bacteria. If they happen at other times, then it’s likely bladder flora.

Either way, find a probiotic that targets the area. “I really like a probiotic called D-Mannose, which you can take as a treatment or even as a preventative supplement,” says Dr. Berman. Cranberries and cranberry juice also might help to prevent UTIs. It's possible that substances in cranberries prevent E. coli — one of the most common UTI-causing bacterium — from sticking to the cells of the urinary tract lining. However, it's likely that these substances aren't effective in "unsticking" malevolent bacteria that's already adhered to the lining — so, it's likely that cranberry juice prevents rather than treats UTIs.
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Illustrated by Ammiel Mendoza.
Smelly Feet

There are few things more tragic than a beautiful pair of shoes ruined by the stench of sweaty, smelly feet — not to mention the sheer embarrassment of taking off your shoes to unleash the stink.

“There are two things that cause smelly feet: bacteria and fungal infections,” says Dr. Berman. Bacterial infections are caused by a build-up of moisture, which is why wearing constricting flats or closed-toed shoes on a hot day can lead to foul-smelling sweat. To fix it, keep your shoes bone dry by wearing cotton socks or by sprinkling your shoes with baking soda before you wear them. To go the extra mile, you can also dip cotton balls in diluted tea-tree oil and stick them between the toes to cut down on the bacteria.

If the problem is fungal, you’ll notice flaking of the skin on your feet. Dr. Oyeyipo warns that this is usually a tell-tale sign of athlete’s foot, which you should treat with an over-the-counter anti-fungal.

To keep your beautiful shoes smelling fresh, douse them with baby powder or baking soda to absorb the sweat inside of them, and swap out your shoes every day so that you never wear the same pair twice in a row (even Martha Stewart swears by this trick). Not only will you look ultra-fashionable, but you’ll save your shoes from the fate of stench.
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Illustrated by Ammiel Mendoza.

“Bloating is caused by the same things as gas,” explains Dr. Berman. Since there’s likely an overabundance of gas in the digestive tract, up your intake of supplements, like glutamine and slippery elm, which both work to treat chronic indigestion. You can also focus on eating more slowly. Hurrying through your food results in more swallowed air, which can make you feel bloated. Overindulging in carbonated drinks can also have this effect, as you're swallowing lots of air.

Dr. Oyeyipo recommends taking probiotics specifically designed for digestion, but echoes the idea that if a food is constantly triggering you, like dairy, then you should remove it from your diet.

Water retention can also make you feel bloated, and many women find that they feel more bloated during certain points in their menstrual cycle. To fight this kind of bloating, cut your salt intake and increase potassium (bananas are a great source). Both will help you eliminate that excess water.