Why does my friend smell like beef jerky?
February 21, 2011 12:01 PM   Subscribe

Are there any dermatological/gastrointestinal issues associated with a smell similar to beef jerky?

To preface, I'm not asking for medical advice and none of you are going to give medical advice over the internet.

I've made the observation that one of my labmates/friends happens to possess a rather unique beef jerky/musty type smell. I've never picked up on a similar odor before which probably isn't that unusual, but this friend has some unresolved health issues. Her boyfriend lives with her and pretty much mirrors her diet and exercise but does not possess the beef jerky/musty smell. My hypothesis is that some peculiarity of her metabolism that is possibly related to her unresolved health problem is resulting in a metabolite that I'm able to smell.

The friend in question is a 23 year old Caucasian female with German/Irish/English ancestry. Athletic physique and exercises regularly. She was diagnosed with a vitamin D deficiency which they don't know if it is secondary to hyperparathyroidism.

She experiences a nagging, 'popping' pain in her lower gastrointestinal tract on the anatomical right at approximately the ilium crest. The gastrointestinal pain presents with 'fatty stool' (not a large amount, described as yellow and mucus-y) and can happen after eating an apple or similar. Ovarian cysts have been ruled out, as well as food allergies. She's had a full endoscopy and her doctors have ruled out Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. As an aside, her colon is about 12 inches too long but doctors do not believe this to be a problem. She is overly sensitive to certain cosmetic products and will break out in a facial rash and believes this may be related to food but is not certain. She has been to three separate gastroenterologists and one dermatologist to no avail.
posted by Lord Force Crater to Health & Fitness (7 answers total)
I'd say the next stop for odd systemic sensitivities is a rheumatology consult.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 12:23 PM on February 21, 2011

Your mention of her having an unusual "musty" smell reminds me that schizophrenics often have a characteristic smell which is often described as being musty.

Not saying that your friend is schizophrenic, just suggesting that you might want to widen your search for a cause. Metabolic disorders, mental illness, medications, chronic yeast infection (not just vaginal), personal hygiene, etc.

(And are you sure it's her body that smells, and not her clothes, shoes, her favorite old jacket, or some other external cause?)
posted by ErikaB at 1:23 PM on February 21, 2011

A quick google of "chronic body odor" and "bromhidrosis" gives several possibilities. Food allergies or intolerances, eating large amounts of red meat, onions and garlic, caffeine, alcohol and heavily spiced foods like curries can all cause stronger than normal body odor. This would be fixed by a diet change, I think. Drugs like penicillin and bromides apparently also can affect body odor. There are illnesses that seem to be associated with body odor, like diabetes, liver disorders, bacterial or fungal overgrowths, metabolic disorders, etc. Some people seem to have a genetic component, does your friend have relatives with the same problem?
posted by anotherkate at 1:33 PM on February 21, 2011

The schizophrenia thing, at least for body odor, appears to be false: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4715330
posted by rr at 1:36 PM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: It could very well be some weird metabolic disorder. I'm almost certain that the smell is in some way related to her biology. I notice this smell mainly when she is talking but it isn't bad breath. I don't notice this smell at her apartment, it isn't on any of her clothes, her diet is excellent, she isn't on any medication that would explain this. She has two sisters and one brother, none of which have similar symptoms. Her and her boyfriend are pretty inseparable and I've been using him as my control in my assumptions as they have been together long enough that I think their microbiota would synced up by now.
posted by Lord Force Crater at 2:16 PM on February 21, 2011

It is very rare, but: Trimethylaminuria is usually described more as "fishy" than like "beef jerky" but ...
posted by rr at 2:34 PM on February 21, 2011

The "fatty" stool made me think of something to do with the gallbladder, although being triggered by apples would be odd. Maybe it's the fiber?
posted by clerestory at 3:24 PM on February 21, 2011

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