Sugar - ©

Attention Mosquito Magnets: Sugar and Fat To Blame?

I feel pretty good this morning. After more than 60 years, science has vindicated my lifelong claim that I am a mosquito magnet. Or at least that certain people are mosquito magnets, due at least in part to what they eat…

Lockwood Your basic annoyance mosquito, Aedes aegypti. Billions and billions
of ’em are buzzing around on Earth at any given time; like
Carl Sagan used to say about stars in the universe…

I first noticed I was different when, walking through the woods with my Dad and Granddad, that they didn’t seem to notice any bugs. But a couple of feet (maybe a 0.5 m) below their heads, mine was swarming with mosquitos and black flies. When I complained, Dad said, “You’re imagining things. No bugs today. Right, Pop?” Granddad just snorted with amusement and strolled on.

Even when I arrived back at the farm house, and Mom went googled-eyed at the sight of my, splotchy, red, swollen face, Dad and Grandad insisted it was no buggier than usual. All in my imagination. Which left me to conclude that it must also be pretty strongly embedded in Mom’s imagination, too.

My superior analytical mind at work…

After Mom huffed off to the kitchen, and the old guys drifted away to the screen porch to start drinking beer, I was left alone to think.

The first thing I noted was, my face, hands and forearms looked even spookier, all dotted and smeared with Calomine Lotion, than they had with just the naked bites. They itched – even ached, in the worst clusters, where some bites seemed to be on top of other bites – just as badly as before the Calomine.

My farm-grown cousins avoided me. But I did catch then shooting me sideways glances, as if I had something contagious they didn’t want to catch.

Efforts to find out ‘why’ thwarted

Back then, there was no Internet. Farm folks (as far as I knew) had resisted the enchantments of the door-to-door encyclopedia salesmen. No chance of doing any substantive research on the Big Bug Problem. And when I asked, Mom said it was crazy to waste the sunshine, the invigorating country air and ‘abundant sounds of nature and life’ the farm had to offer by going to town spend even a minute in the library.

By the time our annual farm stay was over, I’d pretty much learned to defend myself. Always took the high ground, stood in any breeze that might be available, and waded down the middle of the shallow river that ran past the back of the house, down the steep hill that protected it from spring floods.

Ultimately, when we finally went home after the prescribed two weeks, I was more happy just to banish the whole ‘bug’ thing from my mind as to keep obsessing on it.

At home, ‘bug’ talk, much less bugs

Back at the suburban Toronto home where I grew up, Mom and her standards held sway. It was back before DDT and other now banned pesticides were banned, and she insisted Dad apply them lavishly, (strictly according to the package instructions, of course), over every inch of our spacious yard.

Problem solved.

For years, I simmered…

But as I got older, started going places I wanted to, doing things I wanted to do, I realized I had not grown out of my supernatural attractiveness to bugs.

But now I could do some real research. Alas, I could find no reference if the town or school libraries about folks who were hyper-attractive to flying bugs.

So, for another string of decades, I just tried to ignore my occasional run-ins with big bug swarms, and got on with higher education and career-building.

Then, a new study, under ‘Nutrition’…

The study, by a team a Rockefeller University, says it’s developed substantial evidence that, yes, there are some folks who are bug hyper-magnets. And that what we eat may play a leading role in our condition. Because what goes in must come out – albeit, transformed by our metabolisms – and from that we can tell what folks the bugs love have that he masses of plain-tasting humans don’t.

You do that, says Dr. Leslie Vosshall, by analysing what our skin expels in our sweat.And that (by association) you accomplish by comparing what you eat to that aromas you exude.

Aromas, Vosshall notes, are paramount to communication in the mosquito’s communication with and about its world. It’s how they distinguish human Happy Meals (bug magnets) from the other billions of ordinary folks (plain old cheeseburgers) wandering around out there.

Here’s the thing…

Vosshall and her team say, “There’s a very, very strong association between having large quantities of these fatty acids on your skin and being a mosquito magnet.” And that depends on our metabolisms and the soup of aromas our microbiota produce.

From there, they discovered that, “Mosquito magnets produced carboxylic acids at much higher levels than the less-attractive volunteers. These substances are […] are used by bacteria on our skin to produce our unique human body odor.

“To confirm their findings, Vosshall’s team enrolled another 56 people for a validation study. Once again, Subject 33 was the most alluring, and stayed so over time.

Furthermore: “Some subjects were in the study for several years, and we saw that if they were a mosquito magnet, they remained a mosquito magnet,” says team member Maria Elena De De Obaldia. “Many things could have changed about the subject or their behaviors over that time, but this was a very stable property of the person.”


That’s me. But, of course, it’s not that easy.

Vosshall and her people say (predictably) that more research must still be done before their work can be plough-shared into meds or topical agents that will decisively end our bug torments.

Until then, it appears that we bug at tractors should all avoid all added sugars (see photo, top of page), and all foods with high natural sugar levels. Ditto fats, native or added. The less raw ‘feedstock’ for the production of carboxylic acids, the less bad stuff, and the fewer the bugs.

Good to know but…

It now appears I’ll have to continue waiting for my eventual salvation from the buzzing hordes for several more decades. Perhaps even until I go my eternal rest, to the tune of my mourners slapping and smacking away at the little six-legged blood suckers who rise to the aroma of ‘people candy’ from the dark, damp morning grass of the graveyard lawn…

~ Maggie J.