What is bad breath?
Bad breath can come in many forms, levels of severity and can even be triggered by many a wide range of factors.
Simply speaking, it is an unpleasant odour eminating from the breath of a person. Chronic bad breath is referred to as halitosis. Less commonly, it is also called fetor oris, ozostomia or stomatodysodia.
What causes bad breath?
Often identifying the cause of bad breath is the first step towards treating this entirely preventable condition. As mentioned above, it can be caused by a wide variety of things. For example, smoking, dry mouth, a medical condition (such as diabetes) or diet (for example, a diet high in protein or other acid-forming foods, eating garlic and onions or drinking too much coffee or alcohol).
The most common causes of bad breath are preventable and easily treated. However, in some cases, chronic halitosis may indicate an underlying problem in the stomach or digestive system. It is this potential cause that will be considered below.
The digestive system
The digestive tract extends all the way from the mouth right through to the anus. It therefore makes sense that any problems in the digestive tract (such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, for example – see below), can result in bad breath. As such, it is possible for anyone to suffer from halitosis (including both vegetarians and those who eat meat).
Stomach, intestinal and bowel problems may all be a contributing factor to bad breath. Digestion begins in the mouth. Saliva has digestive enzymes which begin the digestion process, and the type of food eaten can affect the food chemistry of the mouth. Saliva will also pick up odours from food within several hours after it has been eaten. Odours are strongest from carbohydrates (sugars, starches and cellulose), less strong from proteins and non-existent from fats. Bacteria in the mouth react with the decaying food and drink residue and can be the source of foul odour.
Digestive enzymes and nutrition
Digestive enzymes become more important as we get older, because their production by the body decreases as we age. A high level of the naturally-occurring digestive enzymes in foods is also destroyed when they are cooked.
If our bodies are enzyme deficient, they must divert nutrients to manufacture those digestive enzymes, which would otherwise be used to make intracellular enzymes such as catylase and SOD, which protect cells as antioxidants. Lower levels of digestive enzymes can also potentially lead to excess gas formation and putrefaction in the intestines. For some, this can contribute to bad breath gases travelling through the bloodstream and to the lungs, where they are exhaled.
Dairy allergy, lactose intolerance and gluten sensitivity
A dairy allergy or lactose intolerance could also be the cause of bad breath. If you think that this could be the case, you could try eliminating all dairy products from the diet temporarily to see if they are the culprit.
Even if you do not suffer from a dairy allergy or intolerance, some people find that the elimination of dairy products can nonetheless help with the control of bad breath odours. This is because dairy products can thicken mucous in the mouth and contribute to the anaerobic environment bacteria thrive in, leading to the production of volatile sulphur compounds (VSCs). It also supplies lots of protein used in the breakdown by bacteria to form VSCs.
For those individuals who are intolerant to gluten (a protein composite found in foods processed from wheat and related cereals) and are also suffering from halitosis, it is important to ensure that you are drinking a great deal of water to wash away thick mucous and bacteria and to keep the mouth flowing freely with saliva. This decreases mouth pH and increases oxygen, both of which help control halitosis.
Candida is an overgrowth of yeast (referred to as candidiasis), which usually starts in the gastrointestinal tract and then gradually spreads to other parts of the body. 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 may result in increased fermentation of the carbohydrates you eat. This produces a variety of toxins and gases.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic gastrointestinal disorder, which results in unusual sensitivity and muscle activity. It is sometimes referred to as spastic colon, spastic colitis, mucous colitis or nervous stomach and is a functional disorder, where the function of the bowels may be abnormal, but no structural abnormalities exist.
It is widely accepted amongst naturopathic practitioners and other complimentary and alternative health therapists that bad breath can be a sign of long-term problems in the colon. They believe the health of the gastrointestinal system is integral to overall well-being, and support for IBS (and bad breath symptoms) often involves seeking to restore gut health (including a healthy balance of bacteria).
In adults, bad breath is often one of the first signs that normal bacteria levels in the gut are imbalanced. Dysbiosis (also sometimes called dysbacteriosis) refers to a microbial imbalance on or within the body; in other words, an imbalance of “good” versus “bad” bacteria. When levels of friendly bacteria in the digestive system are low, partially digested food decays, producing foul gas and toxemia.
Certain health foods, organic products and food-based supplements (such as herbal colon cleansers, high-strength multi-strain probiotics, digestive aids and cleanse and detox supplements) can offer support in resolving bad breath, particularly where this is linked to digestive health.
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