Eau d’Asparagus

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Are you baffled by the title of this post or did you nod your head knowingly?

How can I put this delicately for those of you who don’t know….

Asparagus makes your pee smell funny!

Somewhere around half of you have known this since you were old enough to like asparagus. You were probably told that there is a substance in asparagus that has this effect on some people’s urine. Maybe you’ve even shared a laugh with a family member or (very) good friend when you discovered that you share this affliction.

The smell isn’t in the plant itself. It occurs when sulfur-containing amino acids in asparagus break down during digestion. The same sulfur group is found in garlic, eggs, cheese, and a skunk’s spray. For those of who who’ve never smelled it, now you have some idea of what you’ve been missing.

For centuries, scientists believed that variations in digestive enzymes caused some people to excrete odorous urine after eating asparagus when others did not. Recent studies have turned this theory on its ear proving the excretions to be a universal human characteristic. Virtually everyone produces the stinky compound; it’s just that some of us lack the ability to smell it, even when it’s in our own urine.

The effects of asparagus on urine are fleeting and harmless. The onset is rapid, beginning within minutes of eating asparagus and continuing until it’s out of your system. Both the ability to  produce the odor and the ability to perceive the odor are inheritable traits.

Asparagus season is coming. Now you have an icebreaker for your next dinner party.

A full discussion of asparagus idiosyncracies can be found in the Journal of the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics.

The asparagus-pee phenomenon is nothing new. Read Benjamin Franklin’s thoughts on the subject in his letter addressed to the Royal Academy of Farting (I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried).

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One Response to Eau d’Asparagus

  1. Haha! My nose works fine – I knew it all along 😉

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