TMAU, a Rare Disorder that Causes “Fish Odor” Body Smell

ABC did a special that looked at a rare metabolic disorder that causes bad body odor, which can range from what is described as a “fish odor” smell to a feces or urine odor or a smell of garbage.

Wikipedia says that TMAU “causes a defect in the normal production of the enzyme Flavin containing monooxygenase 3 (FMO3). When FMO3 is not working correctly, the body loses the ability to properly breakdown trimethylamine. Trimethylamine is consumed through the diet and when not properly broken down … builds up and is released in the person’s sweat, urine and breath, giving off a strong fishy odor.” (The Wikipedia article has links to articles for more information.)

As you can imagine, people with the disorder, called TMAU (short for trimethylaminuria), have had their lives turned upside down, and are desperate for information and solutions. The article noted above gives a list of frequently asked questions about TMAU, which is sometimes called fish odor syndrome or fish malodor syndrome. And you can also find a first-person account from a sufferer online. There’s also an old article from Science News (1999) that has more information on TMAU.

According to the ABC article, TMAU has both genetic and environmental components. Digestion and metabolism of certain foods, for example, can cause various body odors (as well as breath odors).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *