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Bad Body Odor May Be Genetic, Treatable

Hemera Technologies/Thinkstock(PHILADELPHIA) -- People with intense body odor may have a rare but treatable genetic condition, according to a new study.

Researchers from the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia found that 118 of 353 people who complained of bad body odor had trimethylaminuria — a metabolic disorder caused by a mutation in a single gene, FMO3.

“This research raises awareness of both the disease and also the proper methods of diagnosis and treatment,” study author Paul Wise, sensory psychologist at Monell, said in a statement. The results were published in the American Journal of Medicine.

The FMO3 gene mutation thwarts digestion of the common food chemical trimethylamine, which causes the stinky chemical to build up and ooze out in sweat, urine and breath. The foul smell gives the condition its nickname: stale fish syndrome.

Trimethylaminuria is extremely rare because the gene defect has to be inherited from both parents, according to the National Institutes of Health.  But for people with unexplained body odor, and who struggle in their social and professional lives as a result, getting tested for the condition could provide relief.

“Health care professionals must arrive at a correct diagnosis to suggest appropriate treatment,” said Wise.

Although there’s no cure for trimethylaminuria, avoiding foods high in trimethylamine, such as milk, eggs, certain meats, soy products and cabbage can help reduce the odor.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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