The ABCC11 gene determines both the type of earwax a person has and their armpit odor. A change in a single spot in the DNA of this gene can cause the gene not to function.
This article explains what the ABCC11 gene does and how to check your 23andMe or AncestryDNA raw data.
ABCC11: the “no body odor gene”
In a nutshell:
- People with the ABCC11 non-functioning gene variant have dry earwax and little or no body odor.
- People with a functioning ABCC11 gene usually have wet earwax and body odor.
Genetic variants that cause a loss-of-function of the ABCC11 gene are very common among East Asian populations (80-90% of the population).
In other population groups, it is rare to have no body odor. In fact, only around 2% of Caucasians carry the ‘no body odor’ version of the gene.
What does the ABCC11 gene do?
The ABCC11 gene (ATP-binding cassette transporter sub-family C member 11) encodes a protein involved in transporting molecules across cellular membranes. ABCC11 is important for the transport of lipophilic compounds, bile acids, conjugated steroids, and – important here – the substance in apocrine sweat and in earwax, thus causing body odor and wet earwax.
For people who have loss-of-function genetic variants, the transporter doesn’t work and doesn’t transfer the odor-causing lipids into your armpits. No body odor!
What else is this gene important for?
Variants of this gene are also involved in resistance to antiviral and anticancer drugs.[ref]
The common genetic variant that causes body odor also causes an increase in sweat from the armpits.[ref]
In Japanese men, carrying the allele associated with wet earwax is linked with an increased risk of hidradenitis suppurativa.[ref]
Do you need to wear deodorant if you have the ABCC11 ‘no stink’ variant?
There was an interesting article in Scientific American a few years ago looking into the fact that those who genetically don’t have smelly pits often unnecessarily still wear deodorant.[ref]
Other research showed that those with the ‘no body odor’ variant sometimes had other sources of body odor or social reasons for wearing deodorant.[ref]
Genetics: How to find your ABCC11 gene variant
Check your genetic data for rs17822931 (View your data on 23andMe v4, v5; AncestryDNA):
- C/C: wet earwax, body odor, and normal colostrum[ref][ref]
- C/T: wet earwax, somewhat less body odor
- T/T: dry earwax, no body odor, and less colostrum
Members: Your genotype for rs17822931 is —.
The frequency of the alleles varies greatly according to ethnic background.
For example, the vast majority of people in Korea have the T/T genotype with no body odor:
The flip side is that very few Caucasians in the UK have the T/T genotype:
Chemotherapy and cancer:
Changes in the ABCC11 gene may impact your reaction to a type of chemotherapy drug called fluorouracil. [ref] Talk with your doctor if you have concerns here.
Diet and Supplements:
A recent study showed that a compound in soybeans, Genistein, inhibits ABCC11. If you have problems with body odor or excessive sweating, look into whether soybean consumption or genistein supplements may help. Keep in mind that genistein is a phytoestrogen that may mimic estrogenic effects, so it may not be the right choice for everyone. [ref]
Luteolin, nobiletin, and hesperitin may also inhibit the ABCC11 transporter. [ref]
Related article: Hesperitin (hesperidin) supplement research and genetics
Related Genes and Topics:
Drinking Genes: How well do you break down alcohol?
Wondering why you don’t react the same way to alcohol as your friends do? Some people metabolize alcohol faster leaving a build-up of acetaldehyde. Learn more about why this can be a health problem for some. (Member’s article)
Sore Muscles after a workout?
Do you end up getting sore after pretty much every workout at the gym? It could be that a deficiency caused by the AMPD1 genetic variant is the cause.
Top 10 Genes to Check in Your Genetic Raw Data
Wondering what is actually important in your genetic data? These 10 genes have important variants with a big impact on health. Check your genes (free article).
Anxiety and Genetics
This article covers genetic variants related to anxiety disorders. Genetic variants combine with environmental factors (nutrition, sleep, relationships, etc), when it comes to anxiety. There is not a single “anxiety gene”. Instead, there are many genes that can be involved – and many genetic pathways to target for solutions.