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Br Med J. 1980 December 20; 281(6256): 1676–1678.
PMCID: PMC1715705

A polymorphism of the ability to smell urinary metabolites of asparagus.


The urinary excretion of (an) odorous substance(s) after eating asparagus is not an inborn error of metabolism as has been supposed. The detection of the odour constitutes a specific smell hypersensitivity. Those who could smell the odour in their own urine could all smell it in the urine of anyone who had eaten asparagus, whether or not that person was able to smell it himself. Thresholds for detecting the odour appeared to be bimodal in distribution, with 10% of 307 subjects tested able to smell it at high dilutions, suggesting a genetically determined specific hypersensitivity.

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Selected References

These references are in PubMed. This may not be the complete list of references from this article.
  • ALLISON AC, MCWHIRTER KG. Two unifactorial characters for which man is polymorphic. Nature. 1956 Oct 6;178(4536):748–749. [PubMed]
  • White RH. Occurrence of S-methyl thioesters in urines of humans after they have eaten asparagus. Science. 1975 Sep 5;189(4205):810–811. [PubMed]
  • Gearhart HL, Pierce SK, Payne-Bose D. Volatile organic components in human urine after ingestion of asparagus. Clin Chem. 1977 Oct;23(10):1941–1941. [PubMed]
  • Amoore JE. Specific anosmia: a clue to the olfactory code. Nature. 1967 Jun 10;214(5093):1095–1098. [PubMed]
  • HENKIN RI, POWELL GF. Increased sensitivity of taste and smell in cystic fibrosis. Science. 1962 Dec 7;138(3545):1107–1108. [PubMed]
  • Henkin RI, Bartter FC. Studies on olfactory thresholds in normal man and in patients with adrenal cortical insufficiency: the role of adrenal cortical steroids and of serum sodium concentration. J Clin Invest. 1966 Oct;45(10):1631–1639. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Campanella G, Filla A, De Michele G. Smell and taste acuity in epileptic syndromes. Eur Neurol. 1978;17(3):136–141. [PubMed]

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