Can a low-carb diet give you bad breath?: A HealthCentral Explainer
If you’re watching your waistline, you may be trying to cut back on the carbs. But did you know that a low-carb diet may actually give you bad breath? Here are the facts.
How the body uses carbohydrates
When we eat carbohydrates, they are digested as glucose or a sugar that is easily converted to glucose. The sugars then enter the bloodstream, causing blood sugar levels to rise, which are used by tissues and cells. Carbohydrates are needed for the central nervous system, the kidneys, brain and muscles to function properly. Once the body’s tissues and cells have had their fill of carbohydrates, excess sugars are stored in the liver or as fat.
What happens when carbohydrates are scarce
When carbohydrates are scarce, the body turns to another source of energy: fat. When we consume fat, it is broken down into fatty acids, which travel through the bloodstream and are used by cells. The body’s fat cells then store extra fatty acids that aren’t needed right away, which the body can tap into to use for energy. This happens when we follow a low-carb diet, as the body doesn’t ingest enough carbohydrates to fuel all of our cells.
How bad breath happens
When the body begins using fat for energy instead of carbohydrates, it produces a byproduct called ketones. When levels of ketones in the blood become elevated, the body enters a condition called ketosis. This typically happens when daily carbohydrate intake falls below 50 grams per day. If ketone levels become too high, the blood can become acidic and cause damage to organs such as the kidneys and liver. During ketosis, the body naturally tries to lower the potentially toxic ketones by expelling them through urine or by exhalation. Unfortunately, when ketones are expelled through breath, the smell can be pungent and foul.
How to reduce bad breath
While “keto breath” may be a sign that a low-carb diet is working, it is a less-than-pleasant side effect. There are certain steps that people on low-carb diets can take to reduce bad breath caused by elevated ketone levels. If someone with ketosis is not willing to increase carb intake—the easiest way to get rid of bad breath caused by excess ketones—drinking more water can help. This will help the body get rid of more ketones through urine, thereby leaving fewer to expel through the lungs. Natural breath fresheners such as mint, parsley and cinnamon, may also help. Sugar-free mints or gum may provide temporarily relief from bad breath, but people who are sticking to a low-carb diet should be cautious of the carbs found in them.