Rare Genetic Condition Makes Woman Smell Like Fish

By Nina Bai | October 22, 2008 12:45 pm

fishThink you might have a problem with body odor? Here’s a dose of perspective: A 41-year-old woman in Australia has smelled like rotten fish all her life. The pervasive smell emanates from her sweat, breath, and urine, and cannot be washed off or covered up. After being “sniffed” by doctor after doctor, all of whom waved her off as a hypochondriac or even prescribed vaginal cauterization, she was finally diagnosed with trimethylaminuria, or “fish malodor syndrome.”

Though she can now put a name to her condition, the bad news is that there is no cure. Trimethylaminuria is a rare genetic disorder that prevents the body from producing an enzyme that breaks down trimethylamine, a fishy smelling substance found in foods like  meat, eggs, peas, soy beans, and er, fish. Only about 600 cases of fish malodor syndrome are known in the world. Cutting out trimethylamine from the diet can help, but there is no effective treatment.

Doctors reported the Australian woman’s case in the Medical Journal of Australia, in hopes of increasing awareness for trimethylaminuria, which is often socially crippling (just imagine being the “fishy smelling” kid in class). Since being diagnosed, she’s joined an online support group and sought genetic counseling. Some with the disorder develop obsessive hygiene habits or use smoking to obscure their fishy smell. It’s tough to see the silver lining for a cloud of fish odor, but at least she might have an easy time tricking those electronic noses at airport security.

Related Content:

DISCOVER: The Chemistry of Fish
DISCOVER: The Electronic Nose
Discoblog: Go to Jail—You Smell Like Drugs

Image: flickr/ “passamanerie

MORE ABOUT: fish, rare diseases, senses
  • john

    dang this sukks for who ever has this disorder..

  • Joanna

    I have a friend that smells like fish. Everytime I stand right next to her, that smells just hits my face so quickly. I do not say anything to her to offend her in anyway but, it smells like fish (dead fish). Its horrible, Im not sure if she is aware of that smells but its bad. She has a boyfriend who which she lives with, I am wondering if by any chance he is also aware of the bad odor smell on her. Im not too sure what is that bad odor smell called but I would like to find out, and look much more into it. Any maybe someday in this New Year I will confront her and let her know about the odor smell on her. I would like to know if you know what this bad odor smell of fish is called?
    My email address is: joannatav87@yahoo.com

    Thank You,
    Joanna T.

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  • Mike

    Have you tried tartar sauce?

  • Holly Mackerel

    I too have the problem. The one good thing I can say about it is that it always keeps me in good shape, what with having to outrun the cats waiting outside my door every time I leave the house.

  • jaws

    How can I locate the support group? My husband doesn’t eat fish, but his breath and urine smell like fish.

  • Helen

    I too believe I have this disorder. Using “Crystal” deoderant helps since it is natural and no chemicals. Taking charcoal tablets “activated” is said to help as well.


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