Wondering Why?

Why Do Dead Bodies Smell?

Dead bodies smell because of the natural decomposition of the tissues of the corpse, which can aggravate depending on the immediate environmental conditions. Flesh decomposes because of the lack of circulation of blood, which initiates autolysis due to the lack of oxidization and nourishment. The process of decomposition starts almost immediately after death and the odor of the corpse will emanate well within the period of 24 hours.

The reason behind the odor of the decomposing dead bodies is the gas released by the tissue which is breaking itself down through autolysis and through bacterial and fungal decomposition known as putrefaction. Both the process involve chemical processes that result in the change in physical properties of the decomposing organism, including the distinctive odor.

Shortly after death and lack of circulation, the decomposing tissue becomes rigid, discolors and loses its heat to the environment. One of the reasons of the discoloration of the corpse is the transformation of hemoglobin into sulfhemoglobin, as a result of action from intestinal anaerobic bacteria. This initiates the release of enzymes that would initiate the autolysis process, while the anaerobic organisms found within the body quickly deplete the oxygen levels within the corpse. This leads to faster decomposition of nutrients and release of gases such as ammonia, methane and hydrogen sulfide.

During the active decay stage, further material is released into the environment, which maintains the odor. This occurs due to the liquefaction and further decay of the decomposing tissue. The decomposition process and the purging of the cadaverous material from the corpse also results in the change of chemical constituents and pH of its immediate surrounding. Factors such as temperature, humidity, the food consumed and access to insects, microorganisms and other scavenging animals can contribute to the rate and intensity of the decay and odor.

In short, the particular combination of gases and fluids release from the decomposing tissue results in the peculiar odor that emanates from dead bodies.


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