Metabolism is the process your body uses to make energy from the food you eat. Food is made up of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Your digestive system breaks the food parts down into sugars and acids, your body’s fuel. Your body can use this fuel right away, or it can store the energy in your body. If you have a metabolic disorder, something goes wrong with this process.
One group of these disorders is amino acid metabolism disorders. They include phenylketonuria (PKU) and maple syrup urine disease. Amino acids are “building blocks” that join together to form proteins. If you have one of these disorders, your body may have trouble breaking down certain amino acids. Or there may be a problem getting the amino acids into your cells. These problems cause a buildup of harmful substances in your body. That can lead to serious, sometimes life-threatening, health problems.
These disorders are usually inherited. A baby who is born with one may not have any symptoms right away. Because the disorders can be so serious, early diagnosis and treatment are critical. Newborn babies get screened for many of them, using blood tests.
Treatments may include special diets, medicines, and supplements. Some babies may also need additional treatments if there are complications.
Trimethylaminuria is a disorder in which the body is unable to break down trimethylamine, a chemical compound that has a pungent odor. Trimethylamine has been described as smelling like rotting fish, rotting eggs, garbage, or urine. As this compound builds up in the body, it causes affected people to give off a strong odor in their sweat, urine, and breath. The intensity of the odor may vary over time. The odor can interfere with many aspects of daily life, affecting a person’s relationships, social life, and career. Some people with trimethylaminuria experience depression and social isolation as a result of this condition.