How Dieting Can Cause Bad Breath

Over the past ten years, there has been a lot of debate about low-carb diets such as the Keto and Atkins diets. Most of this discussion is about how they work, and whether they help people keep weight off for a long period. An overlooked aspect of these diets is their tendency to cause bad breath, also known as halitosis. Some people have taken to calling this phenomenon “keto breath.” How does this happen?

One of your body’s main sources of energy is glucose. Glucose is formed when your digestive system breaks down carbohydrates from complex sugars into simple glucose molecules. When you eat fewer carbohydrates, your body has to find other fuel sources (primarily fat) for energy. This metabolic state is known as ketosis.

When your body breaks down fatty acids, it creates a byproduct known as ketone bodies, or ketones. They come in three common forms: acetoacetate, beta-hydroxybutyrate, and acetone. These are regularly removed from your body when you exhale or urinate.

If you consume a low-carb diet, your body relies more on fatty acids for energy because you aren’t consuming as many carbohydrates. As you use up more fatty acids, more ketones are released as a byproduct of the metabolic process at work.

This surplus of ketones in your body can contribute to bad breath. But the ketones you exhale have very particular odors, which are mostly not like what you experience with normal diet bad breath.

There’s another bad breath factor with low-carb diets. The sudden transition from carbs to proteins changes how the body metabolizes food. The breakdown of protein creates ammonia. A sudden increase in dietary protein will only exacerbate this effect, increasing the amount of ammonia in your urine as well as your stomach gasses. Since it takes a lot of water to remove ammonia from your system, insufficient hydration can degrade your breath as this excess ammonia builds up in your body.

If low-carb diets have helped you, don’t despair. Some people on low-carb diets don’t develop bad breath. With others, it’s a temporary effect of the rapid diet change. And there are ways to mitigate the effect:

  • Drink lots of water
  • Use mints and/or gum to mask odors
  • Brush your teeth at least twice a day
  • Floss daily
  • Transition slowly into your new diet and see how these changes affect you

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