The Durk Pearson & Sandy Shaw®
Life Extension NewsTM
Volume 17 No. 9 • October 2014


The Human Body Odor of the Elderly Easily
Suppressed — Smell of Aging Prevented, Not
Covered Up With Perfumes

The distinct odor you perceive in the vicinity of many el­derly people is the result of unsaturated aldehydes such as 2-nonenal and 2-octenal that are produced by the degradation of unsaturated fatty acids, such as palmitoleic acid, in the aged person’s skin. In a study of people 55 years and older,1 the subjects first took a shower, following which they were sprayed over their bodies with a 2% trehalose solution. Then, as the authors explain, the subjects put on clean underwear. Twenty hours later, samples of the unsaturated aldehydes were obtained from the used underwear and analyzed. The researchers report about a 70% reduction in the odor-causing unsaturated aldehydes from the subjects as a result of the 2% trehalose spray. Testing for oxidized unsaturated fats gave similar results. Here is a simple answer to a common problem — the smell that tells everybody your age! The above is a perhaps mundane application of trehalose that also applies to a more serious underlying problem — the degradation of fatty acids by lipid oxidation. We have written before about the properties of natural osmolytes such as trehalose that act as chaperones to help proteins to fold properly and to help prevent unfolding.2 [See “The Origami of Aging” in the September 2008 issue.] They have other effects as well. Here1 the researchers report that trehalose suppresses the formation of volatile aldehydes such as propanal, butanal, hexanal from alpha-linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid) by 10–30% of the control. These aldehydes are not only a marker for lipid peroxidation, but cause damage themselves. For example, acetaldehyde, the aldehyde formed in the metabolism of alcohol (rather than fatty acids), produces the symptoms that reflect tissue damage when you experience a hangover. In one paper,3 the authors explained that an aldehyde lipid peroxidation product, 4-hydroxy-2-nonenal, is one of the most reactive and cytotoxic products of lipid peroxidation; the molecule can react with biomolecules, especially those containing sulfhydryl and amino groups, and cause cell death. Moreover, the authors1 found that the formation of 3,4-decadienal from linoleic acid by boiling while exposed to air, was also significantly reduced by trehalose thus, as they reported, stabilizing linoleic acid. Interestingly, mushrooms contain 10–25% trehalose by dry weight.1 Mushrooms don’t need social media to let us know they “like” trehalose.

Protection Against Lipid Oxidation — 
an Antiaging Mechanism

As lipid oxidation is a ubiquitous process and especially so in older individuals, whose antioxidant protective mechanisms are generally decreased as compared to the young, the prevention of lipid oxidation can be considered an anti-aging mechanism and, as explained, can be simply achieved by taking trehalose orally or (for off-odors emanating from the skin) by spraying the surface of the body.

The subjects were actually employees at the Japanese company where these studies were done. They may have been a bit taken aback to discover that they stank! (Of course, they also learned how to deal with it.)


  1. Higashiyama. Novel functions and applications of trehalose. Pure Appl Chem. 74(7):1263–9 (2002).
  2. Davies et al. Trehalose reduces aggregate formation and delays pathology in a transgenic mouse model of oculopharyngeal muscular dystrophy. Hum Mol Genet. 15(1):23–31 (2006).
  3. Pappa, Chen, et al. ALDH3A1 protects human corneal epithelial cells from ultraviolet and 4-hydroxy-2-nonenal-induced oxidative damage. Free Rad Biol Med. 34(9):1178–89 (2003).

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