Keto Breath: An Inside Look at the Science Behind It


Going keto brings many benefits, in terms of both our mental and physical well-being. However, it also brings with it some less than desirable side effects. One of the most obvious, and potentially embarrassing, is keto breath, an unpleasant odor that lets you know that you’re in ketosis. In this article, we’ll find out what causes keto breath and, more importantly, what you can do about it. <h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">What is Keto Breath?</p></h4> Keto breath is an odor that comes from the mouth of people who are on a ketogenic diet. People produce this smell to different degrees, with most experiencing it as a fruity, acidic flavor. Some people also notice a metallic taste in their mouth. Though researchers are unsure why, keto breath affects people to varying degrees. Some people don’t get it at all. For others, keto breath is experienced as they adjust to burning ketones as their fuel source. Once they have completely transitioned, the bad odor goes away. Then there are those who live with bad breath for as long as they remain in a state of ketosis. It should be noted that keto breath is completely natural and safe. There is some good news when it comes to this bad breath. It means that you are entering the state of ketosis<sup>1</sup>. If you weren’t, your body would not be expelling ketones through your breath. So, despite being a rather unpleasant side effect, having keto breath is a strong indicator that you are in ketosis. <h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">Common Symptoms</p></h4> <div class="row mb-4"> <div class="col-12 col-md-5 push-md-7 align-self-center"> <img class="img-fluid" src="https://s3.us-east-2.amazonaws.com/wm-wmade-static-media/media/public/Assets/images/man-smelling-breath-with-hand+(1).jpg" alt="man smelling breath with hand"> </div> <div class="col-12 col-md-7 pull-md-5"> Bad breath caused by being in ketosis is different from that caused by poor hygiene. Keto breath is caused by the removal of either acetones or ammonia from your body. It causes an acidic, sweet smell that is sometimes accompanied by a metallic taste at the back of the mouth. Many people describe is as smelling like nail polish or paint thinner. For different people, the degree of the odor may range from mild to very strong. Most people are not very good at smelling their own breath. Even if you blow into your hand, you will be sniffing more of your palm than your actual breath. So, the best way to determine if you have keto breath is to ask someone that you trust how your breath smells. </div> </div> <h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">Why Ketosis Causes Bad Breath</p></h4> There are three reasons that your breath smells like paint thinner when you are on the keto diet. First, you are exhaling acetone<sup>2</sup>. Acetone is one of the three types of ketones which are produced as a by-product of burning fat, the other two being acetoacetate and beta-hydroxybutyrate. Keto breath mainly happens in the transition phase to keto. Because you are not yet completely burning the ketones as energy, they are being excreted by your body and escaping into the atmosphere. The excess ketones that are not expelled when you breathe are removed from the body through your urine. You can test to see if your keto breath is being caused by acetone release by using a breath meter which is known as a Ketonix<sup>3</sup>. This device measures the level of acetones in your breath. A second reason for keto breath may be that you are consuming too much protein. When protein is broken down in the body, ammonia is produced. This is expelled through the mouth, producing that distinct nail polish odor. A lot of people who go on a ketogenic diet end up eating too much protein. This can be counterproductive as excess protein can be converted into sugar in a process known as gluconeogenesis<sup>4</sup>. To avoid this, you should keep your protein intake to no more than 25 percent of your total food intake. <div class="row mb-4"> <div class="col-12 col-md-5 push-md-7 align-self-center"> <img class="img-fluid" src="https://s3.us-east-2.amazonaws.com/wm-wmade-static-media/media/public/Assets/images/dehydrated-girl-drinking-water.jpg" alt="dehydrated girl drinking water"> </div> <div class="col-12 col-md-7 pull-md-5"> A third reason that you are experiencing keto breath may be that you are dehydrated. You’ll recall that the two ways that acetones are removed from the body are through the breath and through our urine. When your water intake is insufficient, you won’t be visiting the bathroom as often as you should. As a result, the majority of the excess acetones in your bloodstream will have to come out through your breath. </div> </div> A fourth and far less common cause of keto breath is the condition known as diabetic ketoacidosis<sup>5</sup>. This is a complication of Type 1 diabetes marked by severe depletion of insulin. The condition causes a buildup of acidic ketones, which require insulin to be broken down. A toxic condition results, one of the symptoms of which is keto breath. <h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">How to Overcome Keto Breath</p></h4> Ideally, you want all of the acetones to be used up as fuel rather than some of it coming out in your breath. There are ways to do that. The first is to be as strict as you can on your carbohydrate intake. Keep your total carb consumption for the day to less than twenty grams. That will make sure that there is no glucose in your system, and your body won’t be able to rely on it to provide some of the energy you need. It could take between three and eight weeks for your body to completely rid itself of glucose. Another thing that will speed up your keto adaptation, and therefore help reduce keto breath, is to do intermittent fasting. This will help keep your insulin levels low. You should also drink plenty of water. This will provide an alternative means for the excess ketones to escape your body. Rather than coming out through your breath, they will be able to escape the body through your urine. You should also start consuming more foods that contain chlorophyll. That’s because chlorophyll acts as a cleanser of the body. Green vegetables have an abundance of chlorophyll, and it has the power to dramatically lessen the effects of keto breath. The Importance of Oral Hygiene <div class="row mb-4"> <div class="col-12 col-md-5 push-md-7 align-self-center"> <img class="img-fluid" src="https://s3.us-east-2.amazonaws.com/wm-wmade-static-media/media/public/Assets/images/woman-flossing-teeth+(1).jpg" alt="woman flossing teeth"> </div> <div class="col-12 col-md-7 pull-md-5"> Even though there are just two causes of keto breath (ammonia release or acetone release), there are other factors that can contribute to the condition. Top among them is poor oral hygiene. If you do not practice proper oral hygiene, it is likely that bacteria will build up around your tongue and gums. This can result in inflammation, the formation of plaque, and bad breath. </div> </div> <h5>Here are three habits that will help to improve your oral hygiene:</h5> **Oil Pulling:** Swishing your mouth with coconut oil will allow you to remove a lot of the plaque and bacteria that has built up. Put a teaspoon of coconut oil in your mouth, swish it around for about ten minutes, and then spit it out. Do not swallow the oil because it now contains all of the plaque and bacteria that you want to get rid of. After ten minutes, spit the oil out and go and brush your teeth. Oil pulling should be done in the morning each day on an empty stomach. It is best to maintain a seated position with your chin up during the process. The reason that coconut oil is the preferred oil to use is that it contains lauric acid<sup>6</sup>, which reacts with alkalis in the saliva to form a soap-like substance that draws bacteria and plaque to it while also cleaning the mouth. Lauric acid also has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. As an extra bonus, coconut oil produces quite a pleasant taste in your mouth. **Drink bone broth:** Doing so will help provide the fluids that your mouth needs to produce saliva. When you are on a keto diet, water and electrolytes are used up faster than on a standard diet, so it’s important to resupply them. Sipping bone broth is an effective way to do this; it supplies you with water as well as electrolytes and minerals such as magnesium, sodium, and potassium. **Brush your teeth regularly:** You should brush twice daily and scrape your tongue at least once a day. Flossing is another habit that will improve your oral hygiene and help to overcome bad breath. <h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">How to Mask the Effects of Keto Breath</p></h4> You will not be able to totally eliminate your keto breath. However, you can mask the unpleasant odor. <h5>Here are three ways you can do so:</h5> **Chew gum:** Make sure that it is sugar-free and does not contain artificial sweetener. Be aware that even sugar-free gum will contain around one gram of carbohydrate per piece, so you need to use it sparingly in order to keep yourself in ketosis. **Mint and chlorophyll tablets:** The combination of mint and chlorophyll has proven to be an effective odor neutralizer and overall body deodorizer. **Use an all-natural breath spray:** These can also contain carbs, so check the label before you buy. <h4><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">Summing It Up</p></h4> For most people, keto breath is the price that has to be paid when you switch over to a ketone-based fuel system. It lets you know that your diet is right where you want it to be, but it can also make your friends and family want to steer clear. For the majority of keto followers, the odor will subside after a few weeks as long as they stay in keto. In order to minimize the effect, keep yourself hydrated, keep your protein intake in check, and practice good oral hygiene habits. <h5><p style="color: rgba(20, 117, 135, 1)">Resources</p></h5> 1. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12081817> 2. <https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/76/1/65/4689461> 3. <https://www.ketonix.com/index.php?lang=en> 4. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2129159/> 5. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4525534/> 6. <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5198813/>

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