Breath Smells Like Ammonia

Our kidneys serve several important roles in the body. They serve a very important role as waste eliminators. Unfortunately, when the kidneys are not able to properly do their job for whatever reason toxins build up in the body and this can result in a strong, ammonia odor to the breath that can have several explanations.

What are the functions of kidneys?

The kidneys are of vital importance in five everyday job functions within the body. Most people know the primary function of the kidneys as the removal and elimination of waste from the body in the form of urine. According to the National Institutes of Health The kidneys filter approximately 28-36 gallons of water and toxins from the blood each day; that’s approximately half a cup of blood per minute! Most of what is filtered is returned to your blood but approximately .5 gallons is excreted in the form of urine. In addition to removing waste from the blood, the kidneys also help remove the acid produced by the cells in the body during their day to day functions and maintain a healthy balance of important minerals, water and salts.

Without an adequate balance of minerals such as sodium, calcium, phosphorus and potassium in your blood your muscles, nerves and tissues may not be able to work properly (NIH).
In addition to their vital job as the primary filters in the body, the kidneys also help to regulate blood pressure(5JOBS). Your body must maintain adequate blood pressure for the blood to flow throughout and reach your kidneys to be filtered. As your blood passes through your kidneys special cells within the kidney measure the pressure in the renal artery; the artery via which blood travels through the organ. If they sense the pressure is too low or high, they secrete an enzyme called renin which, controls the production of two other hormones that control blood pressure (NIH).

Your kidneys are responsible for helping bone marrow to produce red blood cells. Red blood cells are of vital importance within the body. They are the component of blood that is responsible for carrying oxygen throughout the body and carrying carbon dioxide to the lungs to be removed. Red blood cells are made in the bone marrow and the kidneys produce the hormone erythropoietin(5JOBS) which tells the bone marrow to produce these vital cells.

Your kidneys help to keep your bones strong and healthy through the production of active Vitamin D. They kidneys play a necessary function in converting vitamin D from supplements or the sun to the active form of vitamin D needed by the body to absorb calcium and phosphorus; both of which are important for strong, healthy bones.

Additionally, kidneys help control the pH levels in the body. A healthy body pH is a balance of acid and base. As your cells break down, they produce acids and the foods you eat can either increase or decrease the levels of acids in the body. Your kidneys introduce buffering agents into the body to balance the pH of the body.

What are the common causes of kidney problems?

Approximately 14% of the American population has some form of chronic kidney disease (NIH2). Kidney disease often has no symptoms in its early stages and is not detectable until it is quite advanced leaving patients at a strong disadvantage. For this reason, it is very important to understand the common causes and risk factors associated with kidney disease and kidney failure. While there are certain disease processes or chronic disease conditions that can contribute to or increase the risk of someone developing kidney disease there are 5 very common causes (NIH) of kidney disease that are important to be aware of as they are, in many cases, controllable.

Diabetes:

Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney disease according to the National Institute of Health (NIH). This type of diabetes is also known as diabetic nephropathy. Chronic high blood sugar levels in the blood will eventually damage the blood vessels and the filtering units (nephrons) within the kidney. Once this damage has occurred to kidneys, they can no longer filter waste as they are supposed to which causes waste to build up in the body. This damage usually occurs slowly but once it has occurred it is not reversable. If you are diabetic you can reduce the chances of developing diabetic nephropathy by maintaining a healthy blood pressure, maintaining a healthy diet, exercising and not smoking.

Hypertension (High blood pressure):

High blood pressure is a challenge where kidney disease is concerned. High blood pressure can lead to kidney disease, yet kidney disease can lead to high blood pressure. If you are concerned you may have high blood pressure, have a family history of high blood pressure or are age 50 and up you should talk with your doctor and monitor your pressure regularly.

Urinary Tract Obstructions/Chronic Urinary Tract Infections:

A prolonged obstruction of the urinary tract can lead to chronic kidney disease as your body is unable to properly eliminate bacteria and waste. Similarly, frequent infections of the urinary tract can eventually impact the kidney and kidney function as the infections eventually become medication resistant and bacteria begins to impact kidney function. Urinary symptoms and infections should be discussed with your doctor immediately.

High Cholesterol:

Monitoring your cholesterol is not only important for your heart and blood pressure but your kidney functions as well. The fatty deposits from “bad” cholesterol can obstruct the blood vessels that supply the kidneys. This build-up of fat makes it difficult for the kidneys to function properly.

Certain Medications:

If you have been diagnosed with kidney problems or are at risk of developing kidney problems due to disease or heredity, there are certain medications that must be taken with caution. Most easily accessible are over the counter NSAIDS used for pain relief. These can increase the risk for kidney failure and progressive kidney damage. It is important to read the dosing instructions and consult your physician. Other medications/drugs that can impact they kidneys include prescription laxatives, antibiotics, street drugs and alcohol among others.

Why might your breath smell like ammonia?
There are a few instances that may cause the breath to smell of ammonia or urine-like in nature. The two most common are H. pylori and chronic kidney disease. Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) is a common bacterium in the stomach for half of the world’s population (MED) and for most, it lives in the stomach and the carrier remains without symptoms. These bacteria can cause inflammation, ulcers and can lead to stomach cancer in some cases. One of the symptoms associated with an infection is an ammonia or urine odor on the breath. Only a doctor can properly diagnose this infection and prescribe treatment.
Another cause for ammonia smelling breath is Chronic kidney disease (CKD). CKD is an umbrella for a variety of diseases including end-stage kidney failure which impact the ability of the kidneys to filter and remove waste from the body. The inability to excrete this waste leads to a buildup of toxins within the body including ammonia and nitrogenous waste products. This leads to the smell of ammonia or urine on the breath.

How to keep bad breath to a minimum.

Bad breath can be avoided or reduced by following a few good hygiene habits:

  • Maintain good oral hygiene including brushing and flossing and visit your dentist-especially if you feel you have or know you have an ongoing problem with bad breath.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. The fluids should include items including water, juice, tea and other non-alcoholic beverages. Consumption of fluids reduces the chance for dry mouth and the associated breath issues that come with it.
  • Reduce the intake of foods and beverages such as coffee, soda and dairy which can lead to bad breath and plaque buildup.
  • Avoid excessive alcohol as it can decrease saliva production leading to dry mouth.
  • If you are a smoker-quit. Quitting smoking can minimize damage to the mouth and gums and improve overall oral health.

Can coconut oil pulling help bad breath?

Oil pulling is an old folk remedy that touted improvements in dental health, whiter teeth and fresh breath. In modern times, the utilization of coconut oil for this practice is becoming more popular. The process of oil pulling consists of swishing the oil around in the mouth as with mouthwash for 10-20 minutes. The primary benefit is to reduce the number of harmful bacteria in the mouth. There is very limited research on the effectiveness of this practice however, there are studies that show oil pulling could help reduce bad breath associated with plaque and poor oral hygiene, prevent cavities by helping to reduce plaque and reduce inflammation and improve gum health.

There are a variety of reasons for bad breath; most of which are of little medical concern. However, there are some that carry a potentially significant underlying medical diagnosis. For these, it is suggested that one seek the advice of their medical provider as to how they may be able to correct the issue.

Links to important articles used in this post:
https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/kidney-disease/kidneys-how-they-work?dkrd=hispt0004
https://www.kidney.org/kidneydisease/top-5-jobs-kidneys-do

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