Got Foul-Smelling Body Odor? Why You Can Blame Your Parents

I once worked for a woman who had such horrible body odor, it made me gag every time she called me into her office. As much as I tried to linger at the door, she always wanted me to come in and sit down. I would reluctantly oblige, but not before taking a deep breath and trying to only breathe through my mouth for fear that my nose hairs would singe. Anyone who’s ever been around someone like that knows how truly unpleasant it can be. I mean, do they not know how bad they smell? Not always according to a new study, but for those who do, there could be a solution (thank God).

Scientists are discovering that some people who have relentless, unexplained body odor that is not simply due to a lack of bathing or deodorant can blame it on an uncommon genetic disorder known as “fish-odor syndrome”. The condition, technically known as trimethylaminuria, is apparently caused by emitting excessive amounts of trimethylamine (TMA)–a compound our bodies emit when digesting foods rich in choline. This means things like saltwater fish, eggs, liver and certain legumes, like soy and kidney beans, could be making you stink. Worse yet, the smelly condition is caused by a defective gene–meaning, you can thank your parents for giving you something you can’t simply wash away.

Think you might have TMA? If you have a strong fishy smell in your aura, you may–although only about 10 to 15% of patients have that particular scent. You can also have other strong, persistent body odors, which some people mistake for bad breath. And even though only one-third of those tested for unexplained B.O. ended up having TMA, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other explanations.

To find out, the researchers suggest you talk to your doctor (of course) who can send your urine samples to a lab for a mere few hundred dollars. They also advise that you can gauge it on your own by making some dietary changes and cutting out those high-choline foods. But we prefer a much less scientific approach: If people back away, pull their shirts up over their noses or run for the hills when you go to talk with them, that’s a pretty good indication that something’s wrong.

Photo: Thinkstock


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    • Doctor Doo Little

      I am just wondering if the person has BO would he/she smell it themselves? Best to spray perfume under armpits or where the odor comes from.

      • Berdell

        I think masking it with perfume makes it much worse.

    • Amy

      Yes, at least some people with BO can smell it themselves, and it is embarrassing. Spraying scent on the armpits only makes it worse. For me the only thing that works is to take off my shirt, wash, shave, reapply antiperspirant (and only the strongest stuff makes any difference at all) and put on a fresh shirt — even if I just showered a couple of hours ago and was wearing clothes fresh out of the wash. If I don’t happen to be at home when I notice it, there’s nothing I can do. Be nice to people with body odor. I’ve heard comments behind someone’s back like “He could shower every once in a while.” For all they know, he showers trice a day. It is not due to lack of hygiene, and it is embarrassing enough without such comments.