Paleo Breath and Paleo Sweat

If you have recently started a high protein diet and are wondering why your breath smells so bad . . .

Paleo Breath is common among people following the paleo diet (aka caveman diet). There may be two factors involved in Paleo Breath. The first is the accumulation of ketones from fat metabolism.  Ketones are excreted in urine, but there are ketones that also volatile . . . those come out in breath too. Acetone is one of these.   Acetone in breath smells a bit like rotten apples.  The other bad breath agent showing up in paleo diet or low carb diet is ammonia.  Ammonia may show up in breath when people metabolize protein for energy.  Ammonia smells more like urine.  Urine breath may be more disagreeable than rotten apple breath. Or not.  You can get ammonia breath without being on the paleo diet too.    Ammonia breath happens when people are burning protein.

Hard workouts makes your clothes smell worse.

If you have noticed a sudden worsening of smell in your locker or gym bag it may be a sign you are really pushing it during your workouts.  Congratulations. Ammonia concentrations in sweat increase during intense exercise as well as when protein is metabolized for energy.  Ammonia in sweat will make your workout clothes smell nasty.   It may make you smell bad too.

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Ammonia in breath: a hot research topic

A lot of exciting work is being done on ammonia in breath.  While ammonia breath in people who follow high protein, low-carb or paleo diets may be an annoyance or embarrassment, ammonia in the breath can be caused by other problems and signal health concerns.   Ammonia in breath is elevated in people with kidney and liver disease.  Ammonia in breath may also be a sign of esophogeal or gastric problems (like cancer) or lung infections.  If you are eating a protein diet/paleo diet and are otherwise healthy the chance that your bad breath is being caused by a serious health problem are extremely, extremely small.  Still, research on breath is just fascinating.   We may soon be able to diagnose medical problems by having someone breath into a device that would create a profile of breath components.  This may help catch cancers early, so they could be treated earlier and more effectively.  It may also help us better understand physiology in general.  A just-published study has found that ammonia levels are elevated in the breath of obese children.  The obese children in the study also had other factors in breath that differed from their normal-weight peers.   Its not clear yet what elevated ammonia levels mean in over weight children.  A sign of impending diabetes perhaps?

Breath Profiles for Health and Sports

While research on breath is focusing on detection of serious health problems there are so potential applications for general health and sports performance. Ammonia levels in breath (or perspiration) may help coaches and athletes determine exactly when an athlete researches a particular training threshold.

Take Away

Yes, your clothes will smell like cat pee if you don’t wash them after a heavy workout.  If you are following a high protein/paleo diet, showering will help control body odor by washing high-ammonia perspiration off your skin.  Mouth bacteria break-down products form ammonia in breath too. They can produce enough ammonia to confound breath analysis studies.  Nose sampling gives better data. Keeping you teeth and mouth clean should help with paleo breath too.

 

Effros RM, Casaburi R, Porszasz J, Morales EM, & Rehan V (2012). Exhaled breath condensates: analyzing the expiratory plume. American journal of respiratory and critical care medicine, 185 (8), 803-4 PMID: 22505753

Alvear-Ordenes I, García-López D, De Paz JA, & González-Gallego J (2005). Sweat lactate, ammonia, and urea in rugby players. International journal of sports medicine, 26 (8), 632-7 PMID: 16158367

Alkhouri N, Eng K, Cikach F, Patel N, Yan C, Brindle A, Rome E, Hanouneh I, Grove D, Lopez R, Hazen SL, & Dweik RA (2014). Breathprints of childhood obesity: changes in volatile organic compounds in obese children compared with lean controls. Pediatric obesity PMID: 24677760