Mosquitoes Bugging You? Nutrition Can Help

July 13, 2020 | Dr. Linda J. Dobberstein, DC, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition

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 Mosquitoes Bugging You? Nutrition Can Help
The sounds of summer include birds chirping, air conditioners humming, leaves rustling in the air, and the buzzing whine of the dreaded mosquito. These pesky insects are a nuisance at the least, and at worst carry dangerous infectious diseases. Most of us never experience the latter, but rather the itching and welts from their bites are familiar summer battles. Have you ever wondered why you or a family member are more sensitive to mosquito bites compared to others? Or why your sensitivity has changed? Your sensitivity and reaction can help give some insight into the “health of your terrain”.

Mosquitoes Attracted by Scent

Mosquitoes rely on their sense of smell to find food sources. They are attracted to various compounds and scents secreted on your skin, breath, and sweat. These include lactic acid, acetaldehyde, carbon dioxide, alcohol, and high sugar. By providing insight into these clues, you can learn ways to potentially decrease your attraction to mosquitoes.

Scent: Beer, Lactic Acid, and Acetaldehyde

The release of lactic acid in your breath, sweat, and skin makes you more attractive to mosquitoes. Lactic acid in foods is made by microbial activity via fermentation. Beer, especially “sour” beers, and sour milk products like yogurt, kefir, some cottage cheese, and sour-dough bread are made with lactic acid.

Studies show that beer consumption can make you a “mosquito magnet”. Even one beer can make you more attractive to mosquitoes. One study found “Despite individual volunteer variation, beer consumption consistently increased attractiveness to mosquitoes.”

Lactic acid is also produced by physical activity and exercise. In addition, overgrowth of some types of gut bacteria may increase lactic acid in your body. Individuals with fatigue disorders and/or mitochondrial disorders may also have higher levels of lactic acid.

Scent: Acetaldehyde and Candida 

Acetaldehyde is another attractant for mosquitoes. The scent of acetaldehyde actually causes the female mosquito’s antennae to activate and attract them to the source of the compound.

Acetaldehyde comes from many sources. It is a common chemical released from building materials, laminate, linoleum, cork/pine flooring, paints, furniture, particle board, plywood, pinewood, and chipboard furniture. Tobacco smoke, alcohol, and plastics such as water bottles contain acetaldehyde. Think about your living environment and even your clothing. You absorb or carry these odors on your clothing or they may be emitted by your breath and sweat.

Candida overgrowth is another significant source of acetaldehyde that affects your body scent. Candida is a type of yeast normally present with small amounts in your digestive tract. Candida overgrowth however is a significant concern for many. Candida flourishes with high sugar diets and after antibiotic and steroid use.

Individuals with diabetes, obesity, gut problems, and even those who wear dental appliances (retainers, braces, etc) are at higher risk of candida overgrowth. Individuals with candida overgrowth release acetaldehyde in their breath, sweat, and skin which may make you an attractive “fast food” source for mosquitoes.

Carbon Dioxide

High carbon dioxide production occurs with exercise, pregnant women, obese and overweight individuals. If you have a congenital or acquired mitochondrial disorder, high carbon dioxide and lactic production are often present. Be aware that several medications can cause mitochondrial injury. Carbon dioxide release in your breath attracts mosquitoes.

Nasty Mosquito Bites

Once those pesky mosquitos find you, then comes the mosquito bites. When the female mosquito bites you, a tiny amount of saliva is left in your skin. It triggers an allergic immune response leaving a red, swollen welt on your skin. Immune cells called mast cells release histamine in the bite area which causes swelling and redness.

The itch response, however, is a neurological response from nerves in the bite area communicating with your brain via fast acting neurotransmitters and neuropeptides like serotonin, GABA, glycine, substance P, and histamine.

If you find yourself itching more at night, it is due to your body’s natural circadian rhythm and body clocks and high histamine levels. Between midnight and early morning, histamine levels are at their highest. Levels are at their lowest in the afternoon.

Mast cell clocks and histamine release are influenced also by the natural rhythmic secretion of cortisol by the adrenal glands. Normal cortisol levels are at their peak between 6-8 AM which helps dampen the histamine that was elevated at night. If you are under stress with dysregulated cortisol levels, this natural body clock rhythm and counterbalance is negatively influenced. This can make itching and swelling worse throughout the day and night.

Malnutrition Worsens Mosquito Bite Risks

Infection risk from mosquito bites is a concern for several reasons. If your skin is traumatized so much from scratching the itch, then an infection may occur. In addition, mosquitoes can carry several diseases transmitted with their saliva during the bite. Both concerns are affected by the “health of your terrain” or lack of health and malnutrition.

Malnutrition is considered the primary cause of immune deficiency worldwide and a substantial reason why some individuals are more susceptible to mosquito-borne infections. Malnutrition is defined as “any imbalance resulting in deficiency or excess”. This affects obese and underweight individuals alike.

Inadequate nutrient intake is not the same as inadequate caloric intake. For those who have adopted the Western diet lifestyle, there is high calorie intake due to consumption of high fat, high sugar diets with low intake of essential nutrients. Even “healthy diets” if not planned well or because of other concerns can cause insufficient nutrient intake. These nutrient shortages lead to immune dysfunction, high levels of inflammation, changes in skin integrity that affect how your body manages mosquito bites and infection risks.

Health of Your Terrain

“Health of your terrain” refers to a concept used in natural medicine. If the terrain (your body) is stressed, laden with chemicals and toxins, and lacks nutrient reserves, it is less likely to tolerate intrusion or offenses. In this scenario, we are looking at the health of your terrain and tolerance to the bite from a mosquito.

Think about the health of your terrain and do a check-in with these questions as you enjoy the great outdoors. Are you miserable and covered with numerous mosquito bites from a short walk in your backyard? Do you have wounds from bad bites? Think also about how your reaction may have changed over the years.

Is your terrain on overload from increased lactic acid, acetaldehyde, etc. that makes you more attractive to mosquitoes? Is your diet filled with high carb, high sugar, alcohol intake with low nutrient status? Or are the mosquitoes truly more virulent than before even with city-wide mosquito spraying? Your reactions provide clues to the health of your terrain.

Mosquito repellants like DEET can be helpful and necessary at times where mosquito borne diseases are a high threat. My concern is with unnecessary or repetitive exposures to more chemicals contributing to your overall toxin burden and health of your terrain if you are not in a high threat situation. Those concerns are amplified for individuals with poor nutrient status, young children, and pregnant mothers.

Insecticides applied to your skin don’t just completely disappear into the air. They have to be detoxified by your body once absorbed. It adds to the burden of your “terrain”. Insect sprays with essential oils are less toxic and can be helpful, but need to be reapplied frequently. Find ways to support your terrain so you are less attractive to the nasty little biters. Doing so can help your health in many dimensions.

Support Your Terrain

Think about your diet and environment. Does it contain foods that are high in lactic acid, sugar, or alcohol? Your body scent will be a mosquito magnet. If you have a high histamine overload from other allergens or histamine rich foods, your itchiness will likely be much worse.

If you work or live in a building with a lot of acetaldehyde off-gassing, your clothing will smell like these compounds. Wash clothing with unscented detergent and consider using quality air-purifiers that remove volatile organic compounds (VOCs) to reduce your toxic load and acetaldehyde levels.

Vitamins A, C, and D, along with zinc are essential nutrients for the immune system. Researchers have found these nutrients essential for improving malnutrition status and mosquito bite risks.

Other nutrients may be helpful to help your body process histamine. These include quercetin, vitamins C and E, B vitamins, magnesium, and curcumin. Nerve stability from itch irritation may be supported with magnesium with glycine, quercetin, L-theanine, and/or calcium AEP.

MagnesiumB vitamins and PQQ help enhance lactic acid removal while supporting mitochondrial function.

Support your detoxification processes to help manage acetaldehyde exposure and other toxins. Daily Detoxify and Sulfur Plus are great resources. Make sure to get candida overgrowth under control as this can substantially contribute to poor immune tolerance. Oregano Oil, Monolaurin/Lauricidin, Super Dophilus, and others can be helpful.

In Minnesota, we joke that mosquitoes are our state bird because of how big and nasty they can be. But as you scratch that nuisance mosquito bite, think about the health of your terrain. Are the mosquitoes buzzing around you checking you out for their next meal or do they go find someone else? Who’s winning – you or the mosquitoes?

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