When Showering Isn’t Enough

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:

The hereditary disorder is called trimethylaminuria (TMAU), a disease that impairs the ability of an enzyme to metabolize or transform the compound trimethylamine (TMA).

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.

7 thoughts on “When Showering Isn’t Enough”

  1. I was the “fool” who had this – from Junior High on – I was called “DEAD FISH”, among others. I don’t know what lesson God meant for me to learn from this. Compassion? Strength? Righteousness? I know that a friend’s son was diagnosed early on (as I wish I had been). As a teen, people made his life so MISERABLE that he killed himself. PEOPLE, THIS IS NOT THE WAY GOD MEANS FOR US TO TREAT EACH OTHER. TAKE A LOOK AROUND – THERE BUT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD GOES YOU!


    1. Kathie….wow. I can only imagine that a condition like this would be debilitating for someone who didn’t know any better. Thinking back to my own childhood, having something like this would have been absolutely brutal.


  2. Thanks for this information about the genetic connection. i have always thought this condition is due to personal hygiene but also puzzled why three of my colleagues smelled terrible even soon after taking a shower. I just do not know how to confront them with the facts i have gained from your article. May God keep you.


  3. I have struggled with this for years, thought of killing myself on many occasions. The humiliation is unbearable. I have become a recluse. I no longer socialize with people because as soon as I come near to someone they start to gag, cough, rub their noses, sneeze or sniffle.
    I do not smell like fish, I smell like rotting garbage. I often wonder what I could have done to deserve this curse. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. I bathe 5 or 6 times a day, which is terrible for my skin as I overscrub till it hurts. The smell is especially strong in my genital area and underarms, and sometimes my breath.
    When I was working my colleagues would ridicule me right within earshot. I had a nervous breakdown and now even the thought of going out among people gives me a severe anxiety attack.
    I wish there was someone who could help. I don’t know how much longer I can cope. Omg, you wouldn’t understand my pain unless you are also a sufferer of this curse. Can’t somebody help???


    1. I understand exactly what u mean. I have the same thing. There is only one way to combat. Layering. Drink water with tons of lemon juice – this also helps with breath. Wear your favorite perfume in lotion form. When your pours let loose this helps. Get Botox under your arms. Rub a lemon anywhere on body when you are out and about. Wear a nice smelling hairspray and shampoo. Try to have a change of shoes and work and split your day. Wear only cotton and breathable materials. Carry perfume or body lotion and reapply all day. Chew gum.


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