Bad Body Odor? Could Be From Genetic Condition Trimethylaminuria

Bad B.O.? Could Be Your Genes

If you're a super stinky person, perhaps you can blame it on your genes.

A new study suggests that about a third of people who have unexplained B.O. also test positive for trimethylaminuria, a genetic disorder that can cause a person to emit a stinky, fishy odor.

People who have trimethylaminuria, or TMAU, are unable to metabolize the chemical trimethylamine because of mutations in their FMO3 gene. The body's production of the chemical is linked with foods that contain high levels of the dietary constituent choline, including eggs, wheat germ, organ meats, saltwater fish and certain beans. The result is an embarrassing, fishy odor, though people with the disorder can take preventive action by avoiding trigger foods.

Researchers tested 353 people who came to the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia who were all seeking help because of unexplained body odor not caused by problems with personal hygiene.

They then conducted choline tests on all of the participants, and found that 118 of them -- or about one-third -- had TMAU.

The study shows that even if someone doesn't have the characteristic fishy smell from TMAU, the disorder could still be the culprit for B.O., researchers said.

"Although the scientific and popular literature typically describes TMAU sufferers as smelling fishy, our sensory exams demonstrated this not to be so," study researcher George Preti, Ph.D., an analytical organic chemist at Monell, said in a statement. "The odors are diverse and only after a choline challenge do the most severe cases have a fish-like odor."

Trimethylaminuria is classified as "rare" -- meaning that fewer than 200,000 people in the U.S. have it -- but the exact number of people with the disease is unknown, especially because of problems with diagnosis, researchers said.

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