The Genetic Causes of Body Odor
Some are winners in the genetic lottery, and sadly, some are losers.
One of the interesting curiousities about biological research in the last twenty years is that scientists have unpacked all sorts of idiosyncratic variations about how we eat, think, and look that are influenced by the genes we’re born with. Some of the findings aren’t too surprising. Minor differences in our metabolic rate, hair color, and general aptitudes have been attributed to our genes for decades.
However, some results can make you cock your eyebrow. For instance, this paper found that most of your political opinions can be predicted by who your parents are. Not because they spent their entire lives sharing their opinions with you, but simply because they pass on genetic material that mediates certain types of brain functioning. Twins separated from their parents at birth have strikingly similar political opinions to their parents, even if they’ve never met.
We can now add one more item to the list of curious maladies we might be born with: crappy body odor. A paper recently published in the American Journal of Medicine gives details about a genetic condition called trimethylaminuria, which causes some people to smell like garbage:
Although the compound generally has an off-putting fishy smell, at lower concentrations, the odor of TMA may be perceived as unpleasant or “garbage-like,” according to the researchers at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia.
While the effects of the disease are felt socially, the cause and treatment of the problem are rooted in nutrition.
The Cause of Trimethylaminurea
The disease is due to the fact that some people are born without the enzymes to metabolize a compound called trimethylamine. Trimethyl amine smells really bad, and if you’re body can’t break it down and pass it our through your urine, you’re left smelling like rotten fish. I pity the fool who had this condition in high school and didn’t know it.
TMA is typically found in foods rich in choline, which is a type of B-vitamin typically found in meats, eggs, and salt-water fish such as salmon, cod, grouper, swordfish, and sardines. Those suffering from TMAU can also take anti-biotics to regulate the types of bacteria living in your gut, but avoiding marine fish is usually considered the best way to combat the problem.
It’s believed that TMAU is under-diagnosed, mostly due to the novelty of the disease. No one’s quite sure how prevalent the condition is, or what groups of people are most afflicted by it. However, some studies suggest trimethylaminuria might be highly concentrated in african-american women
One doesn’t have to stretch the imagination very far to realize people with TMAU might have problems “fitting in.” No definitive studies have been done on how the condition affects people throughout life, but it’s generally believed people with trimethylaminuria suffer from increased depression and isolation.
Not because because they’re weird, stupid, or ugly, but because…….they eat too much fish.