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Are Milk and Cookies Causing Bad Breath?

Some readers report that consuming milk makes their breath smell bad for hours. Is this a symptom of lactose intolerance?

Q. I have suffered from bad breath my entire life. It has caused me to be anti-social though I am a very outgoing person. All through middle school and high school, I spent a fortune on chewing gum because I was so insecure.

My children and my niece and nephew also suffer from bad breath, and oddly enough our breath all smells the same. We are all milk drinkers. We make cookies or cakes just for an excuse to drink milk.

I recently noticed when my daughter has milk before bed her breath is much worse in the morning. I decided to cut down on the milk before bed also, and I can sense a difference in my breath.

If I left it out of my diet entirely would this help my breath? Could this be a form of lactose intolerance?

A. We have not been able to find any medical studies linking lactose intolerance and bad breath, but we have heard from other readers who have made this connection. LS offered this story:

“I developed lactose intolerance in 1967, undiagnosed until 1969, as a result of getting traveler’s diarrhea in India. After recovering from the initial symptoms, I could not tolerate even the smallest amounts of milk, whether in baked products, cheese, yogurt (which lactose intolerant people are supposed to be able to digest), or anything else.

“I never had diarrhea again if I inadvertently ingested milk in any form, but I inevitably got bad breath, a bad taste in my mouth and a pimple or two on my face. The medical literature may not have reported an association between bad breath and lactose intolerance, but I can confirm the reader’s personal experience with my own.

“I had to strictly avoid milk in any form for something like thirty years, after which I very gradually introduced sheep’s milk cheese into my diet without negative effects. After many months, I successfully tried cow’s milk yogurt in very small amounts. I can now have moderate amounts of yogurt, cottage cheese and even small amounts of ice cream, as well as sheep’s milk cheese. I suspect that cow’s milk is still a problem, based on the bad taste in my mouth if I eat something containing milk.”

Michael also reports bad breath that might be linked to lactose intolerance but also seems to have other causes:

“Here’s my story with apparently bad breath:

“This began when I was in middle school. Teachers would itch their noses when they stood near me. Their reaction almost seemed allergic, as one teacher constantly itched his nose while looking at me until it looked red. Guys I knew would ask me why my breath smelled foul. One guy said it was like smelling ammonia.

“I told the doctor. and he said it was in my mind, just brush and floss.

“I’m now 40. A year ago a supervisor actually asked me about it. She told me that she wanted to make sure everything was ok as I may have an issue with my breath and it isn’t a good thing for the workplace. I thought I was gonna pass out when she said that. I simply said that I would visit the dentist and thanks for the talk. I had to quit that position.

“I am lactose intolerant. That began in my 20’s. I seem to have issues with sugars. Some fruits and candies will make me use the bathroom. And I may have a sour stomach for the rest of the day into the next…gas, etc.

“Tests: I’ve asked for and received many CBC with metabolic, urine, stool, enzyme, had a diabetes test, which was negative. The doctor says I’m healthy.

“Deficiency: deficient in vitamin D. Take supplements and I’m now withing the norm. I did have low B12 and raised it with diet. Other than that nothing else.

“Coworkers still grab their noses and look right at me without saying anything. But the facial expression is clear.”

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.”.
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