Bad breath is often the object of uncomfortable jokes. No one wants to believe he or she suffers from it. However, if you've noticed that people seem to be intent on being distant from you at the table or around the water cooler at work, bad breath may be the reason why.
Bad breath has numerous causes. Dental decay, untreated gum disease, lingual bacteria, smoking, and pungent foods such as garlic and onions all play a role. People don't usually think of stomach problems as a source of bad breath but, in fact, a stomach bug called Helicobacter pylori is often the culprit behind chronic bad breath and stomach ulcers alike.
How Stomach Problems Can Cause Bad Breath
Most people think of bad breath as something that originates in the mouth. After all, as many as 1,000 species of bacteria live on our teeth and gums and in the ridges and grooves of our tongues. Only a dozen or so of these organisms are actually responsible for bad breath. These microorganisms feed on the sugar residues left in our mouths after we eat, producing metabolites that contain foul-smelling polyamines and sulfur compounds.
The highly acidic environment of the stomach is far less hospitable to bacteria, yet a few species still manage to survive there. Among them is Helicobacter pylori. Scientists estimate that between 20 and 80 percent of all people carry this infection. It's more common in undeveloped countries than it is in industrialized nations. Frequently people contract Helicobacter pylori by drinking contaminated water while traveling abroad in a developing country.
Helicobacter pylori has been making people miserable for a very long time. Scientists recently recovered remnants of the bacterium from the remains of human beings that lived in North America before the voyages of Columbus.
Helicobacter pylori burrows deep into the protective mucus that lines the stomach, thereby mobilizing the body's own immunological defense system which primes the stomach to produce more acid in an attempt to kill the invaders. But Helicobacter pylori actually feeds on stomach acid, so the body's immune responses only increase their numbers. The extra acid secretions often end up creating painful stomach ulcers.
In healthy people, the valve between the stomach and the esophagus is a one-way valve with only a minimal amount of gastroesophageal reflux. For people who are infected with Helicobacter pylori, though, gastroesophageal reflux is extreme. The release of excess acid causes painful heartburn and breaks down the tissues of the larynx and the pharynx. These structures then become prime targets for the same type of bacteria that cause bad breath when they're harbored on your teeth, gums and tongue. The problem, though, is that no amount of brushing, flossing or tooth scraping will get rid of bad breath due to this cause.
Some bad breath is also caused by the foods we eat because our stomachs may not be capable of breaking them down completely. Between 7 and 20 percent of all people are lactose intolerant. This means that they lack the stomach enzymes that help them digest lactose, a sugar found in milk and milk products. Undigested milk products will begin to ferment in your stomach the same way they would if you left a carton of milk unrefrigerated on your kitchen counter too long. The result? Sour smells which find their way into the mouth and breath.
Fight Bad Breath Due To Stomach Problems
People suffering from halitosis caused by Helicobacter pylori often don't realize the source of the problem. Their doctors and dentists may not be able to diagnose their symptoms correctly either. The primary symptom of Helicobacter pylori infection is severe stomach pains that occur immediately after eating.
Helicobacter pylori is a persistent infection whose eradication requires medical attention. In the meantime, the best way to reduce bad breath due to stomach problems is to eliminate any foods that might be implicated in your bad breath. If you think you may suffer from lactose intolerance, address the matter with your physician. Avoid foods like tomatoes, citrus, chocolate, peppermint and coffee, all of which are known to relax the pyloric sphincter.
Most mouthwashes and breath mints will not alleviate bad breath due to stomach problems. In fact, they can actually make your breath worse because they contain ingredients that will dry out your mouth, thereby contributing to the proliferation of halitosis-causing microorganisms that live there.
Reduce your food intake at meals. This may involve eating five small meals a day instead of three large ones. The stomach will produce less acid when it's given less food to digest. If you are overweight, lose those extra pounds. Stay upright for at least three hours following every meal. This will help to mitigate bad breath due to stomach problems.