I mosquito magnet. I am one of those people who if I go out on a summer evening, I will hear that annoying buzzing near my head and then the inevitable blow to sting my arms or legs or any uncovered flesh. But why do some people attract mosquitoes while others rarely get bitten? New research suggests that your diet may play a role.
For most of us, a mosquito bite is a minor nuisance that causes the skin to swell and itch at the site of the bite. Some types of mosquitoes can transmit diseases such as malaria, Zika, yellow fever and dengue fever in many parts of the world. In fact, according to World Health OrganizationHalf of the world’s population is at risk of contracting malaria, which is responsible for about 627,000 diseases in 2020. With climate change, the threat posed by mosquitoes to transmit diseases is increasing.
In addition to the color of the clothes one is wearing and their body temperature, it has now been shown that individual scents from their breath and skin drive mosquitoes to bite them. What influences someone’s body odors includes physiology, pregnancy, genetic makeup, underlying infections, and the skin microbiome. Because what you eat and drink can affect your breathing and leather microbiome New research suggests that changing what you eat and drink can affect your attractiveness to pesky insects.
The human body produces more than 350 different volatile organic compounds. Among these VOCs, mosquitoes are more attracted to some and not to others. Some of the VOCs that have been studied that attract mosquitoes include carbon dioxide, lactic acid (produced during exercise), acetone (released in the ketogenic state), ammonia, and other human-produced organic compounds.
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Some studies show that drinking alcohol may increase the volatile organic compounds that attract mosquitoes. A study published in Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association She reported that among the 13 study participants, researchers measured vital signs before and after drinking beer and found that the proportion of mosquitoes landing on individuals increased after drink beer.
Another study was published in PLUS ONE It was reported that beer consumption increased the attraction of mosquitoes to the participating subjects. Researchers believe that beer (and potentially all alcohol) increases attractiveness by raising body temperature and altering VOCs in the body after drinking alcohol.
coffee and caffeine
One recent study was cited in a review article from Current research in parasitology and vector-borne diseases She reported that caffeine is recognizable on the skin and appears to increase the attractiveness of mosquitoes. Other aromatic beverages are likely to increase attractiveness, too, according to the authors.
Caffeine increases metabolism and thus temperature and it is well established that mosquitoes are more attracted to warmer bodies. While more research is needed, cutting back on coffee, other strong aromatic drinks and caffeinated drinks before you go outside where you know mosquitoes will come out can help reduce your attraction to mosquitoes.
A low-carb diet may help, but only if needed
As more research spreads, there are basic hygiene practices you can take to help reduce your attraction to mosquitoes. Keep your skin clean and after exercise, try to shower to avoid sweating. Eat a balanced diet and keep alcohol and caffeine in check to help adjust your body temperature and the volatile organic compounds that are produced by breathing and through your skin.
Since ketogenesis produces acetone by burning ketones for energy, you may find that mosquitoes find you more attractive if you follow a low-carb diet. However, you should always speak with a doctor before trying something like the keto diet, as it is not for everyone.
Julie Upton, MS, RD, CSSD
Julie Upton is an award-winning registered dietitian and communications specialist who has written thousands of articles for national media, including The New York Times, US News & World Report, and USA Today. Read more about Julie