How Eggs Can Impact Body Odor

Image Credit: Shannara00 / Flickr. This image has been modified.

How Eggs Can Impact Body Odor

I previously lampooned the egg industry PR campaign that tried to promote eggs as a source of eyesight-saving nutrients such as lutein, by noting that a single spoonful of spinach had as much as nine eggs (see Egg Industry Blind Spot). The reason we’ll only hear that egg industry claim on websites and TV shows, and never in an ad or on an egg carton, is because there are laws against false and misleading advertising that don’t allow the industry to say eggs contain lutein because there’s such an insignificant amount.

In an email I retrieved through the Freedom of Information Act (you can see the email in my video Eggs and Choline: Something Fishy), the head of the USDA’s poultry research and promotion programs reminded the egg industry that they can’t mention lutein in an egg ad. They can’t say it helps people with macular degeneration, and can’t even talk about how good lutein is for us since “eggs have such a wee amount, and given eggs’ fat and cholesterol content this is a nonstarter for anything but PR.” So for public relations, companies can lie through your teeth, but there are laws covering truthfulness in ads.

The industry can’t say eggs are a source of omega 3s, iron, or folate either. They can’t even honestly call eggs a rich source of protein. The USDA Agriculture Marketing Service suggested that the egg industry instead boast about the choline content of eggs, one of only two nutrients that eggs are actually rich in, besides cholesterol.

So the egg industry switched gears. A priority objective of the American Egg Board became “to make choline out to be an urgent problem and eggs the solution.” They outlined how they could partner with a physician’s group and write an “advertorial.” They developed a number of them for nutrition journals. An advertorial is an advertisement parading as an objective editorial. They sent letters out to doctors arguing that “inadequate intake of choline has tremendous public health implications.” So forget about the cholesterol—the “elephant-in-the-room,” as the industry calls it—and focus on this conjured epidemic of choline deficiency.

People actually get about twice the choline they need and, in fact, too much choline can be the real problem. For one thing, too much choline can give breath, urine, sweat, saliva, and vaginal secretions an odor resembling rotten fish. Millions of Americans have a genetic defect that causes a fishy body odor and might benefit from a low-choline diet, since choline is converted in our gut into the fishy compound trimethylamine (TMA). Individuals oozing trimethylamine often become vegans because reducing the ingestion of dietary animal products rich in lipids decreases TMA production and the associated noxious odor. The other 99 percent of us, though, can turn the fishy choline compound into trimethylamine oxide, which is 100 times less stinky. We used to think extra choline was harmless for the 99 percent, but not anymore.

Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic found that dietary choline (after it is converted in our gut to trimethylamine and oxidized in our liver to form trimethylamine oxide) may contribute to plaque build-up in people’s arteries. This may set us up for heart disease, stroke, and death. Which foods is choline predominantly found in? Eggs, milk, liver, red meat, poultry and fish.

The good news is that this may mean a new approach to prevent or treat heart disease, the most obvious of which would be to limit dietary choline intake. But if that means decreasing egg, meat and dairy consumption, then the new approach sounds an awful lot like the old approach – adopting a plant-based diet.

Choline may be one of the reasons people following the Atkins diet are at increased risk of heart disease whereas a more plant-based diet like Ornish’s can instead reverse our number one killer (see Low Carb Diets and Coronary Blood Flow). This new research adds choline to the list of dietary culprits with the potential to increase the risk of heart disease, making eggs a double whammy—the most concentrated common source of both choline and cholesterol.

I previously did a more in depth dive into the choline issue in Carnitine, Choline, Cancer and Cholesterol: The TMAO Connection.

More on eggs and cholesterol in Egg Cholesterol in the Diet and Avoiding Cholesterol Is a No Brainer.

More Freedom of Information Act finds in Eggs and Cholesterol: Patently False and Misleading Claims, Eggs vs. Cigarettes in Atherosclerosis, and probably my favorite, Who Says Eggs Aren’t Healthy or Safe?

What else might make one smell fishy? See Bacterial Vaginosis and Diet.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here and watch my full 2012 – 2015 presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.

Discuss

Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.


13 responses to “How Eggs Can Impact Body Odor

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  1. Hello,
    If the egg industry can’t say eggs are a source of omega 3s, why does Organic Valley state on their eggs that they are a good source of Omega 3’s?
    Thank you.

    1. According to the USDA, one large conventional egg contains about 50 mg total long and short chain omega 3s. Since that is less than 10% of the adequate intake level for omega 3s, it can’t be labelled as a “good” source. (“Good source” = 10% of RDI; “excellent source” = 20% RDI)

      However, omega 3s are a a big marketing term these days, and many farmers are supplementing their hens’ feed to capitalize on this. If an egg farmer uses feed that has been supplemented with omega-3s (e.g. flaxseed, fish meal, algae) then increased amounts of omega-3s will naturally be found in the animal’s excretions as well. If supplementation increases omega 3 content to 10% of the recommended intake or greater, they can be called a good source.

      According to various sources, it’s typically stated that hens allowed to forage for grasses, clover, etc, in addition to commercial feed can lay eggs with up to about 2.5 x the omega 3 content as conventional eggs. 2.5 x 50 mg would put you at 125 mg which is between 10% of the adequate intake for adult females and males (1.1 and 1.6 g per day, respectively), so these could also legally be deemed a “good” source.

      I would imagine that the rulings and restrictions on descriptions used in advertising are based on conventional eggs. However if individual brands/varieties of of pastured or supplemented eggs are tested and found to have at least 10% of the recommended intake for omega 3s, then they can legally be called a “good source”. Legally, this would be similar to selling an enriched box of rice crispies as a “good source” of several vitamins; it doesn’t matter where the nutrients came from, if they’re in the final product then they can be marketed as such.

  2. I used to eat 2 dozen eggs a week, gave it all up cold turkey – can’t stand them anymore. Unbelieveable how ignorant the public is about nutrition, we need no animal products in our diet and are far better off without it, our environment is better off without it, it is good for our bank account because it saves so much and is whole plant foods are delicious and what we were designed by natural selection to eat, problem is so many people are addicted to bad foods, particularly dairy and meat, it is so easy to change with so many benefits but most people will ever know – sad. Thanks again Michael Gregor.

  3. Same here. Raised on eggs, milk and meat. Sick all over since 4months old through my childhood and teenage years. Gaining more fat with each pregnancy. Tired of being sick and tired I went vegan at the age 30. Now ..8 years later I look & feel better than ever. My 5 children are never sick unless they jump into some junk food at their dads house. They are learning from their own mistakes in such early age. But all I can do is to feed them what I eat while they are with me and to be good example. Dr.Michael your great information is our best support in our vegan life. Thank you from all my heart!

  4. I’m a plant-based devotee, but I’m still interested to know, does choline predominate in the yolk or the white or both. A lot of people separate out the yolk? Jack Lalanne advocated “hard-boiled egg whites.”

  5. Hi,
    I have a question regarding iron absorption from plant sources and I would appreciate your answer a lot. How much of the iron present in plants is actually absorbed and can be biologically functional in our bodies? what does the science say about it? are iron deficiencies/anemia truly more common among vegetarians/vegans? I did some of my own research, but the information out there is pretty confusing to me. I have been vegetarian for 6 years and vegan for 2 years and my iron status is fine, but recently a doctor lectured me how dangerously low the absorption of non-heme iron is and honestly speaking I didn’t have any scientific arguments to prove him wrong. Could you provide me with some reliable knowledge on the subject? Also, I would like to know what are the consequences of consuming too much animal dervied heme-iron and if there are any studies showing that maybe people eating lots of animal products actually provide too much iron for themselvs?

    Thank you in advance for your time and consideration,
    Best regards,
    Daria

    1. There’s a lot on this web site about iron and diet. The bottom line is that a balanced vegan diet is abundant in iron and satisfies most people’s needs with no problem. If you have iron-deficiency anemia, you might need to supplement your diet, but you need to be careful as you do it.

      Dr. Greger has a good video on the topic at:

      http://nutritionfacts.org/video/are-iron-pills-good-for-you/. There’s a good discussion following that video.

      Heme iron, which you get in meat, is difficult for the body to control or “down regulate”. It may contribute in large part to the problems mentioned in the video.

  6. Wouldn’t you have to have an excessive amount of dietary choline for the “odd smell” to occur? Like in the upper levels of 10g or more daily?

    Seems to me you’d have to eat an obscene amount of meat, fish and eggs everyday and supplement choline for that to occur.

    I don’t see how dietary choline is such a big deal as it seems to be purported by this article. The average person, even the die hard keto dieter isn’t eating 5+ dozen eggs a day…

    Maybe I’m missing something?

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