What your breath says about your gut health

Cropped shot of a young man smelling his breath while standing in his bathroom
Persistent bad breath may point towards a deeper gut health issue. (Getty Images)

Bad breath can be unpleasant and embarrassing, but most times, it's easily fixed by brushing your teeth or chewing some minty gum. However, bad breath isn’t always caused by dental issues - in some instances, your gut health may be to blame.

According to gut health expert Chris Dubberley, from Incontinence Shop, having regular and persistent bad breath could signal issues deeper within the gastrointestinal system.

"Anaerobic bacteria on the back of the tongue and throat produce this smell as they break down proteins, an activity that can intensify when you’re not in optimal health," he explains.

The good news is that it is rare for bad breath to be related to gut health, according to experts. However, cases involving a H.pylori infection and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) might be the culprit, and you should be assessed by a qualified practitioner if you are concerned.

Kim Plaza, nutritional therapist from Bio-Kult, tells Yahoo UK: "Some cases of H. pylori are linked to hydrogen sulphide, which may impact our breath, depending upon the strain. Testing can be conducted to assess the type of H. pylori present.

"GERD may be associated with bad breath due to the acidic contents of the stomach being able to reach the nasopharynx (the upper part of the throat behind the nose) and cause irritation, leading to postnasal drip,” she continues.

"This postnasal drip is thought to influence breath. Additional suggestions including ability of intestinal gas being able to reach the mouth, due to the upper sphincter (or muscle) being weak."

Shot of a beautiful young woman checking her breath at home
In rare instances, bad breath could be indicative of gut health problems. (Getty Images)

Dubberley adds that a symptom of hydrogen sulphide causing bad breath could include a persistent "pungent egg breath".

"This distinct odour is often caused by hydrogen sulphide, a gas produced by specific bacteria in your gut," he said. "High levels of hydrogen sulphide in the gut could be indicative of underlying health issues, such as inflammatory bowel diseases and irritable bowel syndrome.

"This can damage the cells in the colon and interfere with the energy utilisation in gut cells, driving inflammation and discomfort."

To test whether your breath is bad, Dubberley recommends an at-home test. "Lick the inside of your wrist, let it dry for a moment, and then sniff it. If it has a foul smell, it could be a sign of high levels of hydrogen sulphide, indicative of deeper health issues."

Gov.uk explains that hydrogen sulphide is a colourless, flammable gas with a characteristic odour of rotten eggs. It is produced both naturally and through human activity.

It can also be generated by industrial processes and is often found in sewers and rotting organic matter - which explains the sulphuric, egg-like odour.

According to The Functional Gut Clinic hydrogen sulphide is also made by some species of bacteria in your gut.

While the gas plays several important roles in the human body, from helping to train and regulate the immune system and acting as a bacterial defence in the gut, too much hydrogen sulphide can become toxic.

High levels of the gas can erode the protective mucus layer in the intestine, which allows bacteria to trigger inflammation. The organisation added that hydrogen sulphide has been linked to inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and colorectal cancer - although more research is required to understand the association.

Plaza says that, as our gut microbiota may be influenced by H. pylori and GERD, supporting the immune function in prevention of these conditions may be helpful to address the problem.

She adds that GERD symptoms have been "noted to improve when live bacteria supplements are taken". "Additionally, eradication of H. pylori was found to be more effective when therapy was combined with live bacteria supplements."

Live bacteria supplements, like those produced by Bio-Kult, usually contain multiple strains of live bacteria that are said to improve overall gut health by diversifying the gut microbiota.

Lifestyle factors should also be taken into account when it comes to treating GERD. There have been some correlations between GERD and bad breath, where individuals reporting bad breath also tended to have chronic gastritis, a history of ulcers, were former smokers and spirit drinkers, and also had problems with their teeth, Plaza says.

"Therefore it may be helpful to change lifestyle habits if this is a particular concern. It may also be helpful to work with a registered nutrition practitioner and/or a specialist to ensure that advice is personalised and safe," Plaza adds.

In addition, proton-pump inhibitors - medications that reduce stomach acid production and are commonly used to treat acid reflux and stomach ulcers - may alter the mycobiome, it has been suggested.

"[This potentially provides] an increased chance of Candida representation," Plaza explains, referring to a yeast bacteria that can cause issues when too much is present in the body. "This opportunistic microbe is usually fine in the low levels found in the system, but do have the ‘opportunistic’ potential to cause us issues, if left unchecked."

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