I’m a mosquito magnet. I am one of those people that if I’m out on a summer evening, I will hear that buzzing near my head and then an unpleasant inevitable strike to bite my arm, leg, or any unexposed flesh. But why are some people magnets for mosquitoes while others rarely get bit? New research suggests your diet may play a role.
For most of us, a mosquito bite is a minor annoyance that causes the skin to swell and itch where the bite occurred. Some species of mosquitoes can transmit diseases like malaria, zika, yellow fever, and dengue in many parts of the world. In fact, according to the World Health Organizationhalf of the world’s population is at risk for contracting malaria, and it accounts for some 627,000 diseases in 2020. With climate change, the threat mosquitoes pose for transmitting diseases is increasing.
In addition to the color of clothes one wears and their body temperature, it is now well established that a person’s individual odors from their breath and skin are what drive mosquitoes to bite. What impacts someone’s body odors includes physiology, pregnancy, genetic makeup, underlying infections, and skin microbiome. Since what you eat and drink can impact your breathing and skin microbiome, new research suggests that changing what you eat and drink can impact your attractiveness to pesky insects.
The human body produces more than 350 different volatile organic compounds. Of these VOCs, mosquitoes are more attracted to some and not attracted to others. Some of the VOCs studied that attract mosquitoes include carbon dioxide, lactic acid (produced during exercise), acetone (released when in ketosis), ammonia, and other human-produced organic compounds.
Here’s a look into the research about dietary factors that may increase your attractiveness to mosquitoes. Then, make sure to check out The Worst Eating Mistakes You’re Making at Your Labor Day BBQ.
A few studies show that drinking alcohol may increase bodily VOCs that attract mosquitoes. A study published in the Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association reported that among 13 study participants, researchers measured biomarkers before and after drinking beer and found that the percent of mosquitoes landing on individuals increased after drinking beer.
Another study published in PLOS ONE reported that beer consumption increased the mosquito attraction to the participating subjects. Researchers theorize that beer (and likely all alcohol) increases attractiveness by elevating body temperature and altering the VOCs in the body after drinking alcohol.
Coffee and caffeine
One recent study cited in a review article from Current Research in Parasitology & Vector-borne Diseases reported that caffeine is a substance that can be identified on the skin, and it appears to increase attractiveness to mosquitoes. Other highly aromatic beverages would likely cause an increase in attractiveness as well, according to the authors.
Caffeine increases metabolism and therefore temperature and it is well established that mosquitoes are more attracted to warmer bodies. While more research is needed, reducing coffee, other strong aromatic beverages, and caffeinated drinks prior to going outside where you know mosquitoes will be out can help lower your attractiveness to mosquitoes.
A low-carb diet may help, but only if it’s necessary
As more research unfolds, there are basic health practices that you can take to help reduce your attractiveness to mosquitoes. Keep your skin clean and after working out, try to take a shower to avoid staying sweaty. Eat a well-balanced diet and keep alcohol and caffeine in check to help moderate your body temperature and volatile organic compounds produced via respiration and through your skin.
Since ketogenesis produces acetones through the burning of ketones for energy, you may find that mosquitos find you more attractive if you follow a low-carb diet. However, you should always talk with a doctor before trying something like the Keto diet, as it isn’t meant 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 outlets, including The New York Times, US News & World Report, and USA Today. Read more about Julie