Everyone's experienced bad breath at some point, particularly first thing in the morning. However, when it becomes a lingering problem, it can cause embarrassment and have a negative impact on a person's quality of life. For instance, in terms of work interaction and socialising.
Identifying the cause of bad breath is often the first step towards treating this mostly preventable condition. So, what is bad breath and what can cause it?
What is bad breath?
Bad breath, technically referred to as halitosis, is basically an unpleasant odour emitted from a person's mouth.
It is a common problem, which affects people of all ages. In fact, as many as 1 in 4 people are estimated to suffer with bad breath on a regular basis, with varying levels of severity.
What are some common causes of bad breath?
Bad breath can be caused by a number of factors, ranging from dental health and hygiene, to digestive problems and dietary choices.
For example, persistent bad breath is often caused by the smelly gases released by the bacteria that coat teeth and gums. Bits of food that get caught between the teeth and on the tongue will decay and can sometimes result in an unpleasant smell. However, strong foods like garlic, coffee and onions can add to the problem.
For the purposes of this article, we will be focusing on the role of digestive health and diet in causing bad breath.
Poor digestion and bad breath
For many people, grabbing a mint or a piece of gum is their 'go-to' solution, as it quickly masks the problem. However, this approach often fails to address the root causes of bad breath, which for many people includes digestive problems or dietary deficiencies.
The digestive tract extends all the way from the mouth, right through to the anus. It is therefore logical that any digestive disorders (such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, poor digestion, fermentation in the gut and putrefaction in the stomach), could result in bad breath.
Similarly, if your digestive tract is overloaded with accumulated toxins, if you have a poor diet, routinely use antibiotics or have a lifestyle that is otherwise conducive to an imbalance in your bowel flora, bad breath could merely be a side effect of another underlying problem - most likely related to digestion.
Too many bad guys (dysbiosis)
In adults, bad breath is often one of the earliest signs that bacteria levels in the gut are out of balance.
Dysbiosis (also sometimes called dysbacteriosis) is a microbial imbalance on or in the body; in other words, an imbalance of friendly versus harmful bacteria (and other micro-organisms, such as yeast, fungi and parasites).
When levels of friendly bacteria in the digestive system are low, partially digested food is allowed to decay, resulting in the production of foul gas (as well as the release of toxins into the bloodstream).
Digestive enzymes and nutrition
Efficient digestion is essential for keeping things moving in the gut. The quicker that food is broken down, nutrients are absorbed and waste and toxins are removed from the body, the better.
If you suffer from constipation, have a sluggish digestive system or a high toxic load, you are a prime candidate for developing bad breath. This is because these conditions create an excess of gas in your body, and much of that gas exits through your mouth.
Digestive enzymes, both produced by the body and obtained from dietary sources (in the natural whole foods, fruits and vegetables that we eat), are essential for the efficient breakdown of food. However, these enzymes can be in short supply for a number of reasons. For example:
- age: our production of digestive enzymes decreases as we age, plus we have a finite reserve of them
- the cooking process: a large percentage of the digestive enzymes naturally present in foods is destroyed by heating
- stress: stress inhibits all enzyme secretion.
Low levels of digestive enzymes can potentially lead to excess gas formation and putrefaction in the intestines. For many, this can contribute to bad breath gases travelling through the bloodstream and to the lungs, where they are exhaled.
Whether or not you suffer from a dairy allergy or intolerance, many people find that reducing their dairy intake can help to control bad breath odours.
Not only is dairy a highly acid-forming food, which is hard to digest, it can also thicken mucous in the mouth and contribute to the anaerobic environment that bacteria thrive in. This can in turn lead to the production of volatile sulphur compounds (VSCs).
Yeast overgrowth is now so common that it is referred to as a "silent epidemic", particularly amongst women.
All of us naturally have low levels of Candida growing in our digestive tract. It is only when digestion is poor, and the immune system and liver aren't functioning correctly, that Candida is allowed to flourish.
When it does, it then gradually spreads to other parts of the body (systemic candidiasis). It is a resilient and invasive parasite, which usually attaches itself to the intestinal wall and can (if left untreated) become a permanent resident of the internal organs.
One of the known symptoms of Candida is bad breath. This is because an abnormally high level of fungal organisms in the intestines result in increased fermentation of the carbohydrates you eat. This then produces a variety of toxins and gases.
Support for bad breath
The link between bad breath, poor diet, inefficient digestion and an imbalance in gut flora is clear. So, what can you do to support your body if you suspect that any one of these factors could be the cause?
- Improve your diet: avoid foods that are hard to digest (such as meat and dairy), that are going to disrupt digestion (such as refined foods) or that are going to feed harmful micro-organisms (such as sugar). Instead, eat more probiotic-rich and fermented foods (like kefir, sauerkraut and kombucha), which can help to support your levels of beneficial bacteria naturally. Many people also choose to supplement with probiotics. In 2011, a study published in the journal 'Current Opinion in Gastroenterology' found that probiotic supplements can help to replace odour-causing oral microbes with beneficial varieties.
- Eat more raw foods: Raw fruit and vegetables not only contain higher levels of digestive enzymes than cooked foods, they are also rich in dietary fibre - useful for 'sweeping' the digestive tract clear of waste, toxins and debris and keeping the digestive system healthy and regular.
- Stay hydrated: Surprisingly, dehydration is one of the most common causes of bad breath. It is so simple to remedy, but many people drink far too little water throughout the day to ward off the bacteria in the mouth that are largely responsible for causing bad breath.
- Consider a body cleanse and detox: Cleansing the blood and eliminating toxins from the body can help to stimulate the lymphatic system, increase the excretion of uric acid through the kidneys and boost adrenal function, all of which target halitosis at its root. Bad breath is often indicative of a system overloaded with toxins and a strained liver. Consider a colon cleanse, liver flush or full body detox!