A review of the volatiles from the healthy human body

B de Lacy Costello, A Amann, H Al-Kateb, C Flynn, W Filipiak, T Khalid, D Osborne, N M Ratcliffe

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article (Academic Journal)peer-review

553 Citations (Scopus)


A compendium of all the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emanating from the human body (the volatolome) is for the first time reported. 1840 VOCs have been assigned from breath (872), saliva (359), blood (154), milk (256), skin secretions (532) urine (279), and faeces (381) in apparently healthy individuals. Compounds were assigned CAS registry numbers and named according to a common convention where possible. The compounds have been grouped into tables according to their chemical class or functionality to permit easy comparison. Some clear differences are observed, for instance, a lack of esters in urine with a high number in faeces. Careful use of the database is needed. The numbers may not be a true reflection of the actual VOCs present from each bodily excretion. The lack of a compound could be due to the techniques used or reflect the intensity of effort e.g. there are few publications on VOCs from blood compared to a large number on VOCs in breath. The large number of volatiles reported from skin is partly due to the methodologies used, e.g. collecting excretions on glass beads and then heating to desorb VOCs. All compounds have been included as reported (unless there was a clear discrepancy between name and chemical structure), but there may be some mistaken assignations arising from the original publications, particularly for isomers. It is the authors' intention that this database will not only be a useful database of VOCs listed in the literature, but will stimulate further study of VOCs from healthy individuals. Establishing a list of volatiles emanating from healthy individuals and increased understanding of VOC metabolic pathways is an important step for differentiating between diseases using VOCs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)014001
JournalJournal of Breath Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2014


  • Body Fluids/chemistry
  • Breath Tests
  • Feces/chemistry
  • Health
  • Human Body
  • Humans
  • Milk, Human/chemistry
  • Volatile Organic Compounds/analysis


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