Fish Odour Syndrome-That Smell that makes you pull your Lips to the Nose

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Fish Odour Syndrome-That Smell that makes you pull your Lips to the Nose

Fish Odour Syndrome-That Smell that makes you pull your Lips to the Nose

Lisa (not real name) is a beautiful, hardworking, successful Nurse with a big heart. She’s 30, not married, not dating, not even interested. ‘We don’t all have to get married you know’ is her response when people tease her about marriage. What they don’t know is that she has a secret; she smells, she smells of fish, rotten fish! A terrible smell that makes you pull your lips to the nose. When you’re around her you think it’s something else in the room because how could such a gorgeous mamasita smell so bad?? She however doesn't smell all the time. Some days are good and others are a phew phew!

Melissa on the other hand is in depression. Her husband left her because he cannot stand 'The Smell' anymore. She dint have it when they got married and now suddenly it’s as though she never takes a bath or brushes her teeth. Her breath, her sweat, her skin all smell terrible.

Well, Lisa and Melissa are both victims of Fish Odour Syndrome. The real reason Lisa is not getting married is because she is embarrassed of 'The Smell'. As of Melissa, how does she deal with a smell that will not go away and has broken her home?

What is Fish Odour Syndrome?

Fish odour syndrome is a metabolic disorder that leaves the victim with a strong body odour. It is often described as a smell from rotten fish or garbage.

What exactly happens?

We all have bacteria in our bowel that helps digest foods such as eggs and beans. In the process a strong-smelling chemical called trimethylamine is produced. Some foods trigger production of this chemical than others. To make this smelly chemical odourless an enzyme (protein) called flavin-containing monooxygenase 3 (FMO3) is produced by the liver to oxidize the chemical and turn it into odourless Trimethylamine N-Oxide. It is the lack or insufficiency of this enzyme that makes some people victims, affecting their social life even leading to depression. The trimethylamine builds up in the body and is released in the person's sweat, urine, breath and vaginal secretions, giving off a strong body odour. Some people have this bad odour all the time while its intensity varies for others. Sometimes it can be detected at childhood mostly during weaning because certain foods are responsible for the odour. Good news is that some children with trimethylamine may grow out of this condition over time and leave a trimethylamanine free life. For others it may develop at adulthood like in Melissa’s case.

Why would anyone lack this important enzyme?

Well, it could be genetic. Most people with trimethylaminuria have a faulty FMO3 gene that doesn’t work as well as everybody else’s accumulating the trimethylamine which must be excreted from the body. This faulty gene is inherited if both parents each have a copy of the gene making them ‘carriers’. They may however not be victims or may only have mild or temporary episodes of the body odour.

On the other hand it could be caused by excess consumption of proteins or an increase in the gut bacteria that produces trimethylamine or where the FMO3 is underactive (mostly linked with liver and kidney diseases).

Who is most affected?

More women than men are affected because their hormones specifically oestrogen and progesterone aggravate the symptoms. It appears to be worse mostly just before or after periods, after taking the contraceptive pill and around menopause. It’s also rather bad at puberty for both sexes.

How is it treated?

Unfortunately there has not been an approved cure for this condition. However it can be managed through diet and medication.

Avoid foods containing the chemicals trimethylamine, choline and trimethylamine N-oxide. Yes I realise we don’t always know the contents of everything we eat but it means staying away from:

  • eggs

  • liver

  • kidney

  • peas

  • beans

  • peanuts

  • soy products

  • Brussels sprouts

  • broccoli

  • cabbage

  • cauliflower

  • seafood

Low doses of antibiotic can be taken to reduce the amount of bacteria produced in the gut thus reducing production of trimethylamine. Seek advise from your doctor before you take any medication.

Lastly try to avoid activities that cause you to sweat and try to use soap with a pH between 5.5 and 6.5 as it could help remove traces of trimethlamine.

Fish Odour Syndrome should not drive anyone to isolation and depression. It should not halt anybody’s life. It is manageable. You can live a fulfilling life just like everybody else. You just need to change your lifestyle, eat right, take your medication and seek counsel. Do not let it affect your self-esteem and bring you down. Rise above it, manage it! And now that we all know, let’s be a brother’s keeper, don’t be nasty to the victims. Help them.


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