Bad Body Odor May Be Caused by Metabolic Disorder

But the condition can be eased by dietary changes

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FRIDAY, Sept. 9 (HealthDay News) -- One-third of people with unexplained body odor may actually have an inherited metabolic disorder, a new study finds.

This disorder that impairs their ability to metabolize a compound -- produced naturally from many foods -- that has a foul, fishy odor.

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.

Production of TMA is associated with foods rich in choline, such as organ meats, eggs, certain legumes and saltwater fish. Excess TMA is excreted from the body in sweat, breath, saliva and urine.

This study of 353 people with unexplained body odor problems found that 118 (33 percent) of them had TMAU.

Odor associated with TMAU can affect social and work relationships and cause psychological distress. Once TMAU is diagnosed, body odor can be controlled through changes in diet and other methods, the Monell researchers said.

The study appears online in The American Journal of Medicine.

More information

The U.S. National Human Genome Research Institute has more about trimethylaminuria.

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