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Q: Sickly Sweet Body Odor ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   12 Comments )
Subject: Sickly Sweet Body Odor
Category: Health > Conditions and Diseases
Asked by: purrsian-ga
List Price: $20.00
Posted: 11 Aug 2004 14:18 PDT
Expires: 10 Sep 2004 14:18 PDT
Question ID: 386659
I've frequently heard, anecdotally, that there are certain body odors
that are indicative of underlying physical disorders.  My husband's
sweat has an almost rancidly sweet odor that tends to linger.  It gets
on the bath towels and whenever I touch those towels, it gets on my
skin.  Does body odor have a genetic basis or, as I mentioned above,
is there a metabolic relationship or a link to some internal disorder?
Subject: Re: Sickly Sweet Body Odor
Answered By: pinkfreud-ga on 11 Aug 2004 15:37 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hello again, purrsian!

It is true that metabolic disorders can cause unusual body odors. The
best known of these disorders are trimethylaminuria, maple syrup urine
disease (both of which are rare), and ketoacidosis (which is rather
common, especially in poorly-managed or undiagnosed diabetics). Liver
and kidney malfunctions can sometimes lead to an ammonia smell, and
some infectious diseases have characteristic odors.



"Trimethylaminuria is a metabolic condition involving hepatic
dysfunction in the flavin monooxygenase (FMO3) system (impaired
N-oxidation of TMA) wherein individuals excrete a fishy body odor in
urine, sweat, breath, and other body excretions."

National Library of Medicine: Trimethylaminuria

"Trimethylaminuria or fish odor syndrome is a metabolic disorder
characterized by a failure in the oxidation route from trimethylamine
(TMA) to trimethylamineN-oxide (TMA-O). Primary trimethylaminuria is
an inherited autosomic recessive disease due to mutations in the human
FMO3 gene. High levels of free TMA in urine and other body fluids
confer an unpleasant body odor resembling that of fish."

PubMed: Primary trimethylaminuria or fish odor syndrome

More on trimethylaminuria:
Science News: What's That Smell?


Maple Syrup Urine Disease 

"Maple Syrup Urine Disease (MSUD) is a disorder in the body?s ability
to use three of the essential amino acids in protein... In MSUD, the
enzymes necessary to break down leucine, isoleucine and valine are
either absent, inactive, or only partially active.  Because of the
enzyme deficiency in MSUD, the BCAAs and their byproducts, called
ketoacids, become elevated...

Intermittent MSUD is a milder form of the disease because of the
greater enzyme activity present (approximately 8 to 15% of normal). 
Often the child does not have symptoms until 12 to 24 months of age,
usually in response to an illness or surge in protein intake.  During
episodes of illness or fasting, the BCAA levels elevate, the
characteristic maple syrup (or burnt sugar) odor becomes evident...

At times the peculiar maple syrup smell in the urine or sweat can
occur in older, healthy children or adults who are non-symptomatic. 
The reason for this is unknown.  However, these persons should be
checked for a milder form of MSUD, especially if there are other
symptoms of MSUD."

MSUD Support: An Overview

"Individuals with maple syrup urine disease (MSUD) are unable to
properly metabolize (break down) three amino acids - leucine,
isoleucine and valine. These amino acids are present in all protein
foods such as meat, eggs and milk. Smaller amounts are also found in
cereals, vegetables and fruits. In individuals with MSUD the enzymes
required to process these three amino acids are absent, inactive or
only partially active. Because these amino acids do not get broken
down completely, high levels accumulate in the blood, urine and sweat.
The byproduct of isoleucine has a characteristic sweet smell which
gives the disorder its name."
University of Utah: Maple Syrup Urine Disease (MSUD)



"Other types of odors are associated with other types of chemical
abnormalities, in which the body makes unusual chemicals as it burns
sugar and fat for fuel. These conditions have quite striking odors,
but they're different from the type I assume you're describing. The
most famous of these is diabetes, which is called by its full name
diabetes mellitus (sweetness). Full-blown, uncorrected diabetes
produces a condition called ketoacidosis, in which the skin of the
patient actually tastes sweet and produces a pungent and unmistakable

Beansprout Networks: Expert Advice


More on conditions that can be related to body odor:

"Body odor may not be mealtime conversation, but to those who have a
trained nose, it can help diagnose disease.

Here are a few examples, courtesy of the journal, Cutis:

Tuberculosis produces a body odor that smells like stale beer. 
Vitamin C deficiency, called scurvy, causes a putrid odor. 
Burns have a musty, grape-like odor. 
Ketoacidosis, which may result from diabetes, smells like old apples. 
Liver failure smells like rotten eggs. 
Kidney failure has the smell of ammonia."

WPTZ Health: The good side of body odor

"Smelling a patient to diagnose disease is a lost 'art' that is rarely
used by doctors today. In the past, doctors recognized that certain
diseases made the patients give off a distinctive odor. Although body
odor was not a foolproof way to diagnose a disease, it did give
doctors a clue to what was wrong with a patient. Here are some
diseases and the odors that patients might have:

Disease:             Odor
--------             ----
Typhoid:             Freshly baked brown bread
Diphtheria:          Sweet
Smallpox:            Stench (a foul odor)
Yellow fever:        Butcher shop
Scurvy:              Putrid (a rotten odor)
Phenylketonuria:     Musty; sweaty locker room
Metabolic disorders: Maple syrup
Diabetic ketosis:    Fruity aroma; decomposing apples"

University of Washington: The Lost Medical Art of Smelling


Google search strategy:

Google Web Search: "body odor" + "metabolic"

Google Web Search: "body odor" + "msud"

Google Web Search: "body odor" + "trimethylaminuria"

Google Web Search: "body odor" + "ketoacidosis"


It is, of course, entirely possible that your husband's body odor is a
genetic anomaly that has no relationship to health problems. My
great-aunt, my father, and my brother all had unusual, distinctive
body odors; neither my sister nor I inherited this. The only
explanation provided by family physicians was that the odor may have
been related to kidney function, but none of the affected persons
suffered any symptoms that could be related to the odor, and none of
them died of kidney disease. My great-aunt lived into her nineties.
Her husband called her "Stinky." If your husband really loves you, and
you know it, he can get away with calling you "Stinky." ;-)

I hope this helps! Do keep in mind that Google Answers isn't a place
where an individual can get a diagnosis; the material I've gathered is
strictly informational, and shouldn't be viewed as a substitute for
the services of a qualified medical professional. If your husband is
concerned about the possible significance of his body odor, he may
want to consider seeing an endocrinologist.
Please let me know if you need clarification; I'll be glad to offer
further assistance as needed.

Best wishes,
purrsian-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $5.00
PF is the best.  Warm, intelligent, considerate - exceptional.

Subject: Re: Sickly Sweet Body Odor
From: psychopoet-ga on 11 Aug 2004 17:42 PDT
Pinkfreud scores again!
Subject: Re: Sickly Sweet Body Odor
From: purrsian-ga on 11 Aug 2004 19:45 PDT
Hi, again, to you, too, PF!

You come up with wonderful answers to my questions - your job must be
quite interesting.

Anyway, my husband's grandmother, on his mother's side, died of
complications associated with diabetes and Alzheimer's.  I tend to be
somewhat suspicious because he doesn't really have the best diet in
the world, either.  And, of course, I also realize that the only place
to get a definitive answer is in a physician's office.  It will bother
me until he decides to get a check up, but, like all men (am I
generalizing???) he will not go to a doctor.  You know, men don't get

Thanks again for your answer.  As usual, you've risen to the task and
have given me a more than satisfactory answer.  Good to chat with you
again, PF.

Subject: Re: Sickly Sweet Body Odor
From: pinkfreud-ga on 11 Aug 2004 20:18 PDT

Thank you very much for the kind words, the five stars, and the nice tip!

I do know the difficulty of getting a man to go to the doctor. My
fiftysomething husband, bless his heart, hasn't been in a physician's
office for more than a decade. He takes his blood pressure for free at
Walgreen's, and declares himself perfectly healthy.

Sigh. Men: you can't live with 'em, and you can't push 'em off a cliff
and collect the insurance. ;-)

Subject: Re: Sickly Sweet Body Odor
From: purrsian-ga on 12 Aug 2004 08:41 PDT
As an aside to anyone who might be interested, my husband comes from a
culture which holds the prevailing philosophy that illness is one's
destiny, one is "old" at 40, and somehow whatever bad health habits
that might have created illness or caused death is a matter of not
having managed the bad health habit well enough.

For example, if you smoke, and die from a heart attack or cancer, that
can be blamed from not having built up a constitution strong enough to
have prevented it.  One has to "practice" at drinking, with the goal
that you can drink your neighbor under the table.  Sugar is health

Being an American, I was a little astonished at these notions, but
they prevail.  Sigh.  (I suppose there are Americans among us who hold
the same ideas - I'm from California and, I suppose, in the minority.)
Subject: Re: Sickly Sweet Body Odor
From: pinkfreud-ga on 12 Aug 2004 10:05 PDT
That is interesting indeed. I hadn't thought of the cultural aspect of
doctor-avoidance. My husband is Canadian, and both his parents had the
attitude that they were from sturdy, rugged (and superior) stock, and
were thus exempt from the usual consequences of smoking, drinking, and
poor diet. The exemption turned out to be illusory, and both his
parents died in their sixties. Fortunately, my husband neither smokes
nor consumes alcohol, and (except for a Coca-Cola habit), he eats
rather sensibly.

Things are very different in California. We live in Oklahoma, where
the concept of a healthful lifestyle is widely considered to be Commie
claptrap. ;-)
Subject: Re: Sickly Sweet Body Odor
From: purrsian-ga on 12 Aug 2004 10:47 PDT
Yes, rugged.  Old World notions.  I'm happy to hear that your husband
may have been affected by his parents' dying so young, or is that only
my projection?

My 59 year old cousin was diagnosed with cirrosis of the liver (in
fact, what remains of it) late last year; immediately after he had
thrown himself into a daily exercise regime to combat the effects of
diabetes - I'm sure as a last gasp attempt to erase the past.  If he
does manage to receive a new liver, he may extend his life.  If not,
he'll be dead before the end of this year.  The wife of a friend (who
is from Ireland) believes that you have to "work" your liver with
alcohol in order to keep it in shape for heavy drinking bouts.  I
found that fascinating.

We all live in the same country, yet we're all so different, huh? 
It's funny that Californians are considered communist, when the
so-called "health" food that some of us buy usually costs so much more
than what you would find at a discount grocery store. ;o))
Subject: Re: Sickly Sweet Body Odor
From: pinkfreud-ga on 12 Aug 2004 11:02 PDT
> It's funny that Californians are considered communist, when the
> so-called "health" food that some of us buy usually costs so much
> more than what you would find at a discount grocery store. ;o))

Those Malibu Bolsheviks are tricky rascals, eh?

There's no accounting for what will be adjudged "Commie" in my part of
the country. There are people here who thought Dwight D. Eisenhower
was a Communist dupe. And Mamie, too.
Subject: Re: Sickly Sweet Body Odor
From: purrsian-ga on 12 Aug 2004 11:29 PDT
How funny.  Just this morning I was listening to Paul Krugman
(economist/journalist) who joked that Ike was a commie.  He was
joking, you know?  By today's standards, he might just as well have

Long live Whole Foods!  ;o)))
Subject: Re: Sickly Sweet Body Odor
From: runswiththoughts-ga on 05 Oct 2004 12:50 PDT
Being someone who has a sensitive nose I am actually aware of the
different smells I produce. One of the main things that I have come
across is after I consume a good portion of caffeine (cup or more of
coffee, can of coke, etc) I notice a distinctly worsened change in my
BO which lasts throughout the day. Otherwise I don't produce much in
the way of offensive body odor. Given all that, I try to stay away
from caffeine if I know I'm going to be in close quarters with others.
If one does consume a good amount of caffeine, one might do an
experiment over a week to see if this does indeed affect them, as it
does me.

Not sure if this applicable, or if anyone will read this, but I
thought I'd throw it out there just the same. More input can't hurt
right? Unless of course the knowledge incurred is somehow virus-like
and retroactively consumes and scrambles any and all present
knowledge, as well as all other future incoming knowledge. Boy, now
that would really stink!
Subject: Re: Sickly Sweet Body Odor
From: purrsian-ga on 05 Oct 2004 13:24 PDT
Dear Runswiththoughts (good name, considering your last paragraph ;o}).

Thanks for the insights.  Yes, my hubby drinks a lot of coffee (it's
his form of "hydration"), but most of it is decaffeinated, or so he
says.  I would be more worried about the affect of caffeine on his
nervous system and heart than his b.o., however.

Your last paragraph made me laugh!  I'll have to remember THAT one. ;o)

Thanks for your comments. ;o)))))

Subject: Re: Sickly Sweet Body Odor
From: pinkfreud-ga on 05 Oct 2004 14:46 PDT
>> Unless of course the knowledge incurred is somehow virus-like
>> and retroactively consumes and scrambles any and all present
>> knowledge, as well as all other future incoming knowledge.

Yikes. This is probably not the case in general, for most of the
world, but for those of us who've reached a certain age, it does seem
as if the mind is full, so whenever a new item of information enters,
an old one must leave. Unfortunately, we don't get to choose which
items to jettison. The automatic editing is a dreadful nuisance,
especially when something that has been edited out is later sought.
There are few things as frustrating as being aware that you used to
know something, and now it's gone.

My name for this condition is "hardening of the smarteries."
Subject: Re: Sickly Sweet Body Odor
From: purrsian-ga on 05 Oct 2004 15:30 PDT
Your "condition" sounds like my typical experience working with our
accounting software.  Maybe our software has hardening of their
smarteries.  Hey, now my mom has a really popular-sounding name for
her memory "deficits."  ;o)

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