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Why Asparagus Make Pee Smell Funny?

For all of its health benefits (it has plenty of fiber and protein, and it acts as a diuretic to help beat bloating),asparagus can have one major downfall: It can make your pee smell funky.

So what’s to blame for the cooked-cabbage aroma? “Your body breaks down asparagus during digestion into sulfur-containing chemicals that give your urine a distinctive odor,” explains Roshini Raj, MD, assistant professor of medicine at New York University Langone Medical Center and author of What the Yuck?!.

Not everyone is affected, though: Dr. Raj says that only about half of people complain about, er, report the funny smell.

Scientists have developed two theories to explain why asparagus-tainted urine only affects some people. One posits that only some people metabolize asparagus’ sulfuric compounds in a way that produces the aroma. The other holds that while everyone makes the smell, only some people can actually detect the odor.

In a study published in the journal Chemical Sense, researchers from the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia sought to determine which explanation was the more likely. They collected urine samples from 38 participants before and after they ate asparagus, then asked whether the participants could detect the smell.

They found that both theories held true: 8 percent of the participants did not produce funny-smelling pee, and 6 percent of the participants could not smell it (even though some produced it).

While you may think not smelling the asparagus pee is a good thing, the researchers suggest that failing to pick up on the scent might be potentially dangerous, because it may indicate an inability to detect other important odors. “This is one of only a few examples to date showing genetic differences among humans in their sense of smell,” study co-author Danielle Reed, PhD, a Monell behavioral geneticist, said in a press release. “Specifically, we have learned that changes in an olfactory receptor gene can have a large effect on a person’s ability to smell certain sulfurous compounds. Other such compounds include mercaptan, the chemical used to add odor to natural gas so that people are able to detect it.”

So is there any way to minimize the offensive aroma? In a word, no, that is unless you avoid eating the stalky vegetable altogether. Given the abundance of fiber, folate, and vitamins A, C and K in asparagus, it may be worth putting up with a few unpleasant whiffs to reap all of its healthy advantages.