If you’re struggling with breath that smells a bit like rotten eggs, then you might want to look into your gut health. Because apparently smelly breath could be a sign that something isn’t quite right with your gut bacteria.
New research from gut health testing company OMED Health shows that ‘rotten egg’ smells can provide valuable insight into the state of your gut.
What’s the smelled caused by? Well, hydrogen sulfide, well-known for its distinctive smell, is a gas produced by specific bacteria in your gut. And while having some hydrogen sulfide in breath is normal, high levels of it have been associated with several serious digestive diseases.
The bacteria that produce it feed on the hydrogen produced when other gut bacteria break down food, producing hydrogen sulfide, which can be detected in your breath. They can damage the delicate cells in the intestine, prevent the gut from using energy, and lead to the inflammation seen in IBS and Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD).
“High concentrations of hydrogen sulfide in the gut have been linked with a number of digestive conditions, including inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, and irritable bowel syndrome,” explains Dr Nabeetha Nagalingam, Principal Translational Scientist at Owlstone Medical and OMED Health.
“Gut bacteria that produce high levels of hydrogen sulfide can damage the delicate cells in the colon and hydrogen sulfide can interfere with the ability of gut cells to use energy. It’s a combination of these responses that likely drives some of the gut inflammation seen in conditions like IBD and IBS,” she says.
It can also indicate an issue with small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO): “Research has found that people with SIBO typically have a higher proportion of hydrogen sulfide within their breath than those without the disorder,” explains Dr Nagalingam.
How to heal gut health issues
So, if you’re experiencing the dreaded rotten egg breath, what can you do to look after your gut? According to recent research, our diet can have a direct impact on our gut microbiome and probiotics have been proposed by researchers as an effective way to prevent and treat gut disorders.
Probiotics containing the bacterial strains Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria are said to be particularly helpful in reducing bad breath.
It can be helpful to play around with the food that you’re eating, too, recommends Dr Nagalingham: “Everyone and their microbiome is unique, and therefore one of the best approaches is to experiment with diet and foods and eliminate different foods for a period of time to determine what triggers your symptoms alongside advice from a healthcare professional.”
“This can also be combined with breath tests, which measure the levels of hydrogen and methane in your breath to help you gain an insight into what’s happening in your gut. There is limited availability for tests to detect hydrogen sulfide as studies in this area are few and far between, but our research at OMED Health is helping us take major steps towards the launch of a hydrogen sulfide specific breath test,” she says.
You can also try to eat less sulfuric foods in general.
“Foods that are high in sulfur include eggs, poultry, fish and allium plants such as garlic, onions, and leeks, as well as cruciferous vegetables like kale, cabbage, and broccoli,” says Dr Nagalingham.
“Low FODMAP diets have been found to reduce the symptoms of IBS that can be caused by hydrogen sulfide, even more effectively than medicinal treatment, but are not recommended for long-term use due to their restrictive nature. It’s best to consult your doctor or nutritionist before making drastic changes to your diet.”