Bad breath is an endless battle for many people. And while many assume bad breath originates in the mouth, the stomach could also be the culprit. Yes, halitosis (aka bad breath) can be traced to your tummy. Let’s take a look at the causes of stomach-related bad breath and explore some ways you can fix it.
What Causes Stomach-Related Bad Breath?
Here are some of the conditions often associated with stomach-related bad breath:
Chronic acid reflux or Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
Gastroesophageal reflux is a disease where stomach acid and stomach contents backflow up the food pipe repeatedly. The food pipe (esophagus) connects the mouth with the stomach, and that backflow can contain:
- Undigested food
- Stomach acids
When people experience GERD, the flowed-back stomach contents remain in the esophagus or at the back of your tongue to cause bad breath.
A 2022 study recently confirmed the strong connection between GERD and bad breath, noting how halitosis is associated “with typical oesophageal symptoms of GERD, such as heartburn, regurgitation, and sour taste in the mouth.”
Bad breath from the gut can also arise due to gastrointestinal diseases. Gastrointestinal diseases are conditions that impact the digestive system. These include:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): IBS is a disease that affects the large intestine. Abdominal pain and cramps, changes in bowel movements, constipation, vomiting, diarrhea, and flatulence (gas) are the symptoms of IBS. People with IBS also burp a lot due to gas, which can cause bad breath.
- Constipation: When undigested food remains stuck in the gut and intestines, constipation occurs. Often, a lack of bowel movements can be traced to a low fiber diet or physical inactivity. Constipation-related halitosis can be indicated by the smell of excrement on the breath.
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD): Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are two different types of inflammatory bowel disease. They cause inflammation, narrowing the intestines and hindering the passage of digested food during absorption. When food remnants linger in the digestive tract, they can lead to bad breath. A 2018 study noted how oral manifestations (like halitosis, or bad breath) can be used as a direct indicator of a patient experiencing ulcerative colitis.
- Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO): The bacterial population in the small intestine increases in SIBO. Constipation, indigestion, and gas are the few symptoms of SIBO that can also contribute to bad breath.
- Liver disease: Liver diseases such as cirrhosis, liver failure, and auto-immune diseases are often tied to an oral condition called fetor hepaticus, which the National Library of Medicine likens to “the odor of a mixture of rotten eggs and garlic.”
- Gastroparesis: In gastroparesis, the stomach fails to empty its contents normally. The motility of the stomach muscles slows down. As a result, the food from the stomach takes longer to clear. Effectively, delayed excretion can result in bad breath.
Stomach ulcers are painful sores in the lining of the stomach and small intestine. Stomach ulcers are either caused by an infection with a bacteria called helicobacter pylori or by the excessive use of NSAIDs (painkillers). In addition, this study shows a strong link between H.pylori infection and halitosis. H.pylori infection can lead to indigestion. Indigestion makes the contents in the stomach ferment, causing bad breath.
Additionally, H.pylori bacteria give out volatile sulfur compounds and sulfide compounds: hydrogen sulfide and methyl mercaptan, which are mainly responsible for bad breath.
Bowel obstruction is the partial or complete blockage of the large or small intestine. In healthy individuals, digested contents pass through the intestine without issue, but when intestines are blocked, they give rise to the collection of gas and feces, which emanates up the esophagus and manifests as bad breath.
Kidneys flush out waste and toxins from the body as urine. When the kidneys fail to function, filtering does not occur. Hence, kidney disease can build up toxins in the blood.
People with kidney disease often complain of their breath smelling like urine (otherwise known as ammonia breath). In addition to ammonia breath, kidney disease can also give a metallic taste in the mouth.
Treatment and Prevention
The symptoms of gastrointestinal diseases can come down drastically with a conscious change in lifestyle and eating habits. Here are some things you can try if you’re experiencing bad breath related to stomach problems:
1. Stay hydrated
Digestion can be drastically improved if you drink enough water. Water aids during every step of digestion and aids a variety of beneficial processes:
- Water helps in the production of saliva.
- Water dilutes stomach acids.
- Water improves the absorption of nutrients by acting as a medium.
- Water aids bowel movements and prevents constipation.
- Water dilutes toxins produced by the body.
- Water enhances kidney function.
2. Maintain good oral hygiene
It’s no secret that good oral hygiene can keep bad breath in check. Most of the time, we cannot help if the bad breath is from the stomach. But maintaining good oral hygiene can alleviate bad breath on a large scale. Brush and floss every day. Rinse thoroughly after every meal without a second thought. Visit your dentist for routine dental checkups and teeth cleanings once every six months.
3. Avoid trigger foods
The mouth is the entryway to the whole body. And, as we know now, bad breath and gut health are linked to each other closely. It is essential to be mindful of what we put inside our bodies.
The following is a list of foods to avoid if you struggle with indigestion and constipation
- Carbonated drinks
- Fried foods
- Citrus foods
Follow a healthy diet with enough fiber containing fruits and vegetables. Drink plenty of water to ease the digestion process. Limit caffeine and avoid spicy and acidic foods that irritate the gastric mucosa and worsen the symptoms of gastrointestinal diseases.
4. Stay active
In today’s world, our work demands us to sit for more than half of the day. And, sadly, this lifestyle does not benefit our overall health. Staying active improves metabolism and reduces constipation. There is also promising research that correlates physical activity with reduced constipation and improved IBS symptoms.
5. Use an alcohol-free mouthwash
Mouthwashes can instantly reduce bad breath. A mini bottle of mouthwash in your bag can come in handy to boost your confidence before meeting people. Remember to choose an alcohol-free mouthwash to avoid dry mouth.
6. Consume probiotics
Probiotics are live microorganisms that benefit health, mainly gut health. One study showed a significant decrease in the symptoms caused by GERD using probiotics. Studies are still going on in this field, so be sure to check with your doctor before taking probiotics.
When to See Your Doctor
It may take some time to ensure that your bad breath is from the stomach and not the mouth. Be sure to look for any persistent difficulties in digestion or bowel movements.
On top of bad breath, if you happen to experience any of the following symptoms, visit your doctor immediately, as they could indicate pressing medical conditions:
- Heartburn/Acid reflux
- Unable to pass the feces completely
- Pain and cramps in the stomach
It can be tricky to recognize the origin of bad breath, especially if it’s hiding in your tummy.
Be sure to consult your doctor if you find any discomfort in your stomach along with bad breath. Yes, bad breath is a universal issue, but do not hesitate to talk to your doctor about your bad breath and other concerns.