Is Your Bad Breath Caused by Foods High in Sulfur?

Is Your Bad Breath Caused by Foods High in Sulfur?

Let's face it...halitosis, or bad breath...stinks! Approximately 60% of Americans complain of having bad breath. This common condition creates much social anxiety and can certainly hinder one's personal relationships. If you've searched the Internet for ways to alleviate this situation and your attempts at using mouthwash and breath mints have failed, you may be interested in learning how eating a diet that includes animal products contributes to bad breath. Dr. John McDougall and Clinical Pharmacist Dustin Rudolph are two plant-based nutritional experts that discuss this topic.

Dustin Rudolph's article, Oral Health And Plant-Based Diets reviews the more commonly known causes of bad breath such as poor oral hygiene. "Bacteria have a field day of feasting on the food particles left behind after eating" Rudolph says. "Those with gingivitis and periodontal disease are especially affected, since bacteria lie beneath diseased gum lines. And, although bacteria are present along the gums and in between teeth, the back surface of the tongue contains four times as many bacteria." Rudolph recommends practicing good oral hygiene habits on a daily basis. "Brushing, flossing, and rinsing will help dislodge and clear much of the food particles left behind after eating, thereby reducing the amount of plaque buildup for those bacteria to feed off of. Many people forget to clean their tongue though. All bad breath sufferers should make a conscious effort every single day to brush their tongue or better yet use a tongue scraper in order to remove the accumulation of bacteria residing there." His article also mentions other causes of bad breath such as "infections, medication, kidney failure, liver failure, and pancreatic disease."

Sulfur stinks! Dr. McDougall's 's article, Halitosis is More Than Bad Breath helps us to understand how animal protein plays a role in causing bad breath. Halitosis, he says, is primarily caused by bacteria breaking down animal proteins in the mouth and large intestine. This process is called "microbial putrefaction" which generates "malodorous gaseous sulfur compounds that contain dihydrogen sulphide (H2S) and methyl mercaptan (CH3SH)."  

His article explains that there are 20 amino acids that are the building blocks of protein, and only two of them contain sulfur - methionine and cysteine. The highest concentration of these two amino acids are found in red meats, poultry, cheeses and all other animal-derived foods. The putrefaction of these two amino acids produces sulfur gases in the large intestine. "These gases [hydrogen and methane] are absorbed through the intestinal wall into the bloodstream where they circulate until they reach the lungs and are eliminated into the breath" Dr. McDougall writes. He goes on to say, "Cleaning of the oral cavity would not be expected to reduce the breath concentration of gases derived from the gut. The only way to reduce this source of sulfur gas is to decrease your intake of sulfur-containing amino acids, which means avoiding animal products."

You may enjoy watching Dr. McDougall's 3-minute video below where he explains how sulfur-containing amino acids smell like rotten eggs.

Dr. McDougall emphasizes that "Although most patients perceive this condition as primarily a cosmetic problem, an increasing amount of evidence shows that extremely low concentrations of many of these compounds are highly toxic to tissues. These sulfur gases, especially methyl mercaptan, play a role in causing inflammatory conditions such as periodontitis (inflammation of the tissues surrounding and supporting the teeth). Periodontal disease has been associated with other serious illness, including heart disease. These sulfur gases are also involved in inflammation of other cells lining the intestinal tract causing colitis, and occasionally, a life-threatening condition, known as ulcerative colitis."

Additional causes of halitosis that Dr. McDougall mentions are:

  • Consuming certain foods and beverages
  • Alcohol and tobacco use
  • Unclean dentures
  • Sinus infections, abscessed teeth, food impaction, or a foreign body in the nose
  • Bowel obstruction, diabetes, and a metabolic condition known as fish-odor syndrome (trimethylaminuria)

Dr. McDougall discusses mouthwashes and how the majority of them temporarily cover up the odor; however a mouthwash containing zinc is preferable since it neutralizes sulfur compounds.

To summarize, bad breath can originate from numerous sources, many of which can be remedied by ensuring adequate dental hygiene and avoiding substances such as tobacco and alcohol. Most importantly however, high concentrations of methionine and cysteine (the 2 sulfer-containing amino acids) account for much of the odor and can be resolved by eliminating high-sulfur foods like meat, dairy and egg products. So now that you know how to remedy your bad breath, there's no need to fear getting closer to the ones that you love!

John McDougall MD Links

John McDougall MD  |  LinkedIn  |  Wikipedia  |  VegSource  |  Twitter  |  Facebook  |  Books  |  Videos

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