By Dr. Mercola
Have you ever wondered why some people seem to be attacked by mosquitoes the moment they step outdoors, and others rarely get a bite? This may be because certain compounds naturally secreted by humans inhibit mosquitoes’ ability to detect odors.
Certain people seem to secrete more of these natural substances than others, making them essentially invisible to mosquitoes. Scientists are now trying to harness the power of these chemicals to inhibit mosquitoes’ sense of smell and create a new generation of insect repellents.
New Bug Sprays Might Make Humans Invisible to Mosquitoes
In a presentation given at the 246th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society, Ulrich Bernier, Ph.D., a chemist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Mosquito and Fly Research Unit, explained that certain compounds emitted through sweat and produced by bacteria on human skin are irresistible to mosquitoes.
Lactic acid, for instance, which is commonly found in human sweat, attracted about 90 percent of the mosquitoes in one test.
However, when other naturally occurring chemical compounds, such as 1-methylpiperzine, were released, they blocked the mosquitoes’ sense of smell so effectively that the mosquitoes were oblivious to a human hand nearby. Bernier explained:1
“"If you put your hand in a cage of mosquitoes where we have released some of these inhibitors, almost all just sit on the back wall and don't even recognize that the hand is in there. We call that anosmia or hyposmia, the inability to sense smells or a reduced ability to sense smells.”
Insect sprays containing 1-methylpiperzine are still in the works, as so far scientists haven’t been able to figure out how to keep the substance from evaporating off of the skin, as naturally occurs over time. However, if such products are eventually created, it could mean an end to toxic insect repellant ingredients like DEET.
Why It’s Best to Avoid Synthetic Insect Repellants, Like DEET and Permethrin
Conventional insect repellants typically contain DEET, a chemical that smells unpleasant to mosquitoes so they stay away. The trouble is, some mosquitoes have developed resistance, making DEET less effective than it used to be. And, this chemical is linked to a number of very serious side effects.
Currently, DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) is used in more than 230 different products -- in concentrations of up to an astounding 100 percent. If a chemical melts plastic or fishing line, it's not wise to apply it to your skin -- and that is exactly what DEET does.
Duke University Medical Center pharmacologist Mohamed Abou-Donia spent 30 years researching the effects of pesticides. He discovered that prolonged exposure to DEET may impair cell function in parts of your brain -- demonstrated in the lab by death and behavioral changes in rats with frequent or prolonged DEET use.
Children are particularly at risk for subtle brain changes because their skin more readily absorbs chemicals in the environment and chemicals more potently affect their developing nervous systems. I personally would never use DEET. Other potential side effects of DEET exposure include:
Memory loss Headache Muscle weakness and fatigue Shortness of breath Muscle and joint pain Tremors
Another potentially harmful chemical found in many bug sprays is permethrin. This chemical is a member of the synthetic pyrethroid family, all of which are neurotoxins. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has even deemed this chemical carcinogenic, capable of causing lung tumors, liver tumors, immune system problems, and chromosomal abnormalities. Permethrin is also damaging to the environment, and it is particularly toxic to bees and aquatic life. It should also be noted that permethrin is highly toxic to cats.2
Natural Tips to Avoid Getting Mosquito Bites
There are over 3,000 different species of mosquitoes throughout the world, about 200 of which occur in the US. Their bites are not only annoying and painful; they can also transmit diseases such as malaria, yellow fever, encephalitis, West Nile virus and dengue fever. Mosquitoes can even spread Lyme disease!
You can avoid many bites by staying inside around dawn and dusk, which is when they are most active. If you must be out during those times, wear light-colored, long-sleeved shirts and long pants, hats and socks (some mosquitoes are more attracted to dark clothing and can bite through tight-fitting clothes). Mosquitoes are also thicker in shrubby areas and near standing water.
As mentioned, body temperature and skin chemicals like lactic acid also attract mosquitoes, which explains why you’re more likely to be “eaten alive” when you’re sweaty, such as during or after exercise, so trying to stay as cool and dry as you can may help to some degree.
Some experts also recommend supplementing with one vitamin B1 tablet a day from April through October, and then adding 100 mg of B1 to a B100 Complex daily during the mosquito season to make you less attractive to mosquitoes. Regularly consuming garlic may also help protect against mosquito bites, as may the following natural insect repellants:
- Cinnamon leaf oil (one study found it was more effective at killing mosquitoes than DEET3)
- Clear liquid vanilla extract mixed with olive oil
- Wash with citronella soap, and then put some 100% pure citronella essential oil on your skin. Java Citronella is considered the highest quality citronella on the market
- Catnip oil (according to one study, this oil is 10 times more effective than DEET4)
Another option is to use the safe solution I have formulated to repel mosquitoes, fleas, chiggers, ticks, and other biting insects. It's a natural insect spray with a combination of citronella, lemongrass oil, peppermint oil, and vanillin, which is a dynamite blend of natural plant extracts. In fact, an independent study showed my bug spray to be more effective than a product containing 100 percent DEET. And it's safe for you, your children and your pets.
Keeping Mosquitoes Out of Your Yard Helps, Too
If you’re having a picnic or backyard barbecue, you can significantly cut back on the mosquitoes buzzing around by taking simple preventive actions, like draining standing water, including pet bowls, gutters, garbage and recycling bins, spare tires, bird baths, children’s toys and so on. This is where mosquitoes breed, so if you eliminate standing water, you’ll eliminate many mosquitoes.
Planting marigolds around your yard also works as a bug repellent because the flowers give off a fragrance that bugs do not like. This is a great way to ward off mosquitoes without using chemical insecticides. A simple house fan could also help keep mosquitoes at bay if you’re having a get-together in your backyard or, for a longer-term solution, try installing a bat house (bats are voracious consumers of insects, especially mosquitoes). I tried this for my own home but was unable to get any bats as they seem to be rapidly decreasing, not too different than the bees.
It’s best to avoid using bug zappers in your yard, as these may actually attract more mosquitoes while killing beneficial insects. Insect foggers designed to clear insects out of your backyard should also be avoided, as they require the use of strong, potentially harmful, pesticides and don’t offer lasting protection. Even those clip-on repellants and fans that are widely sold are best avoided, as they contain even more toxic ingredients than repellants that can be applied to your skin, and they pose an inhalation hazard.5
6 Mosquito Fun Facts…
While scientists continue to work on the next generation of mosquito sprays that may one day make mosquito bites a rarity, feast on these fun facts about these insects that virtually everyone loves to hate:6
Mosquitoes do not feed on blood -- they actually feed on plant nectars. Females use blood to nourish their eggs prior to laying, imbibing about 5 millionths of a liter per "feeding." Mosquitoes are attracted by carbon dioxide, lactic acid and other body chemicals, as well as your body heat, and can sense these from over 100 feet away. Women, and people drinking beer, have been shown to be more attractive to mosquitoes. So if you're a woman drinking a beer, watch out. Blonds seem to be more attractive to mosquitoes than brunettes. In one study, a full moon increased mosquito activity by 500 percent. If you turn on a light at night you may notice that it is magnet for bugs. What most people are not aware of is that if you use a newer LED bulb, it will NOT attract bugs.
This is because most LED bulbs do not emit wavelengths in the UV spectrum like incandescent or fluorescent lights do.