Is your diet making you attractive to mosquitoes?
Why is it that some people seem to avoid being bitten by the mozzies, while others are covered in bites as soon as they step off the plane?
Scientists believe that genetics account for about 85% of a person’s susceptibility to bites, and have identified certain proteins in mosquitoes’ antennae that attract to chemical compounds on the surface of the skin. We each have a distinctive smell made up of hundreds of compounds, and people with higher concentrations of steroids, cholesterol or uric acid tend to be more prone to being bitten. The presence of carbon dioxide and lactic acid also indicate that a warm-blooded animal is nearby, and since mosquitoes are attracted by movement and heat, exercising outside on a warm summer evening could make you a prime target.
Insect repellents generally work by masking your subtle odour and effectively making you ‘invisible’ to the mozzies. But if you don’t like the idea of repeatedly spraying yourself there are some nutritional strategies that are worth a try:
Garlic: This has a mild repellent effect and masks the body’s natural scent as the sulphur compounds are emitted through the skin. If you’re particularly attractive to mosquitoes then garlic alone may not be enough to offer full protection, but there are so many other health benefits that it’s worth including a clove or two each day. Onions work in a similar way and it’s interesting to note the Mediterranean diet is rich in both these foods.
Vitamin B: A study conducted back in the 1960s indicated that taking vitamin B1 (thiamine) was effective in reducing mosquito bites, although more recent studies have failed to find a direct link. Excess thiamine is excreted via the skin and sweat, and produces a particular odour that is thought to repel mosquitoes, so those with low levels may be more susceptible to bites. A vitamin B complex can be safely taken by most people, although do check with a GP or nutritional therapist if you have any particular medical concerns.
Sodium/potassium: Foods high in salt or potassium increase the amount of lactic acid emitted through the skin. It makes sense for most people to cut down on salt, and if bites are problematic then it might help to reduce your consumption of high potassium bananas and potatoes in the summer months, and focus instead on lower potassium fruit and veg like blueberries, apples, cucumber, cabbage and watermelon.
Citrus peel: The citrus scent seems to repel many biting bugs, and rubbing citrus peel on the skin has been effective for some people - although be aware that citrus oils should be used with caution on sensitive skins as they have a phototoxic effect, so always apply sunscreen to avoid burning.
Marmite: Urban legend suggests eating marmite keeps the biters at bay – maybe due to the smell but marmite is also a rich source of B vitamins.
Vinegar: An old army trick is to take a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar three times a day, a few days before you travel. White vinegar can also be applied directly to the skin (dilute with spring water and use in a spray bottle) but only if you don’t mind smelling of a fish and chip shop!