Garlic may be a welcome addition to many recipes, but it is not without its issues. As anyone going on a first date knows, it can be prudent to avoid the garlic bread.
But why does garlic make your breath smell so bad, and what can be done to counteract its effects?
What Causes Garlic Breath?
Garlic is well-known as a rich source of essential oils(1). Interestingly, the compounds responsible for garlic breath aren’t actually present in whole cloves.
Instead they are created when garlic is mechanically damaged – such as during crushing or chopping(2).
At this point enzymes within the garlic start to break down a compound known as alliin to produce four different chemicals known to cause garlic breath.
These have the less-than-memorable scientific names of:
- Diallyl disulphide
- Allyl mercaptan
- Allyl methyl disulphide
- Allyl methyl sulphide
As you might have guessed from their names, many of these compounds contain sulphur – the main cause of garlic breath.
What is even more interesting is how your body deals with these four compounds.
The first three chemicals are broken down by the digestive system, meaning that the main source of their odour comes from the mouth when garlic is eaten.
Studies show that garlic breath initially comes from the mouth as a result.
However it is the last compound, allyl methyl sulphide (normally known more simply as “AMS”) which can cause rather more problems(3). As it turns out, AMS cannot be broken down during digestion(4). Instead, AMS exits the body through other means. Most notably it is breathed out, though may also be removed from the body through perspiration and/or urination(5).
Indeed, if you’ve ever noticed that someone smells of garlic even from some distance away it may be that they are sweating it out, as much as expelling it on their breath.
Due to the different way in which AMS is eliminated from the body its effects can be rather more long-felt, with some authorities claiming that it may take a full day to finally leave the gut entirely.
So while freshening the breath will combat the initial cause of garlic breath, for complete protection you’ll also want to consider how to deal with the longer-term effects of AMS.
How to Get Rid of Garlic Breath
Getting rid of garlic breath is no simple feat, as you’ll need to tackle both the odour coming from your mouth, as well as that from the gut. As a result a multi-faceted plan of attack can yield better results than relying on a single remedy.
As three of the four major causes of garlic breath stem from the mouth, it makes sense to limit their impact before consuming garlic.
The first stage in getting rid of the immediate effects of garlic breath is therefore to maintain good oral hygiene. Here there are a number of effective strategies:
Brush & Floss Regularly
Regular brushing and interdental flossing can not only remove particulate matter on which oral bacteria feed, but can also help to reduce the overall volumes of such bacteria in your mouth.
Use a Tongue Scraper
Studies of bad breath have shown that the highest density of sulphur-feeding bacteria is generally the tongue. Indeed, one study found that regular tongue scraping to remove residues resulted in a 75% decline in volatile sulphur compound (VSC) production, while brushing alone only led to a 45% reduction(6).
In other words if you’re ignoring your tongue then you’re missing a major trick. Invest in a decent-quality tongue scraper and use it regularly to keep your breath under control.
Anti-Bacterial Oral Rinses
Over the years experts have experimented with a range of weapons for reducing bacterial loads in the mouth. From gargling hydrogen peroxide to the provision of antibiotics, possibly one of the most effective and low-effort solutions is an anti-bacterial oral rinse.
As an example, our Daily Oral Rinse doesn’t just mask unpleasant odours; instead its anti-bacterial properties actually help to eliminate the odour-causing agents, leading to long-term breath freshness.
Now we come to the other half of the battle; reducing the impact of AMS on your breath. While effective oral hygiene will help you counteract the immediate effects of eating garlic, such a process, while important, won’t necessarily help with the effects of AMS. Here we need to employ another set of tools.
Fortunately, a number of studies have examined the impact of AMS, and found solutions to help us combat garlic breath coming from the gut(7). Indeed, as the problem comes from your digestive system, the best solution here is to consume other foodstuffs which counteract the effects of AMS.
Here are some of the best options:
Drinking good old-fashioned milk can be one of the most effective solutions to garlic breath. Studies have found that whole milk, with its higher fat content, can be a far more effective remedy than low-fat milk.
Even more interestingly, drinking milk before eating garlic was found to be even more effective than drinking it after garlic consumption.
If you’re planning a garlicky-feast, the scientific evidence suggests, therefore, that you’d be well-advised to down a glass or two of milk beforehand, and to consider following up with another soon after eating.
The enzyme which turns slices of apple brown can also help to fight the effects of AMS(8). As it turns out, scientists have found that this same enzyme can also have a deodorizing effect on AMS. Rounding off a garlic-laden meal with some fresh fruit can be a very helpful strategy, therefore.
The thought of drinking lemon juice might not fill you with excitement, but the strong acids it contains have been found to counteract the sulphurous odour of garlic.
Rather less effective than lemon juice, but easier on the palette, is green tea. Tea contains polyphenols which can counteract the impact of garlic, rendering your breath all the sweeter as a result.
Lastly chewing on herbs such as parsley or mint have been shown to help eliminate garlic breath in scientific studies.
As you can see, there’s no need to give up on the Italian food, even on a date.
Keeping your mouth in perfect condition, and drinking a glass of milk before dinner are both correlated with fresh breath. Add some fresh fruit and a cup of green tea afterwards and you’ll be well on your way to garlic-free breath.
As a result, at the end of the evening, you can look forward to your date swooning for all the right reasons – rather than as a result of your garlic-laden breath.
- (1) Haggard, H and Greenberg, L. 1935. Breath odours from alliaceous substances. Journal of the American Medication Association 104(24), pp 2160-2163. Available at: www.jama.jamanetwork.com
- (2) What compounds cause garlic breath? – The Chemistry of Garlic. Available at: www.compoundchem.com
- (3) Battling garlic breath: scientists reveal the best foods to get rid of the smell. Available at: www.dailymail.co.uk
- (4) Why garlic is the bad breath king. Available at: www.webmd.com
- (5) Suarez, F et al. 1999. Differentiation of mouth versus gut as site of origin of odoriferous breath gases after garlic ingestion. American Journal of Physiology 276(2), pp 425-430. Available at: www.ajpgi.physiology.org/
- (6) Pedrazzi, V et al. 2004. Tongue-cleaning methods: a comparative clinical trial employing a toothbrush and a tongue scraper. Journal of Periodontology 75(7), pp 1009-1012. Available at: www.joponline.org
- (7) Hansanugrum, A and Barringer, S. 2010. Effect of milk on the deodorization of malodorous breath after garlic ingestion. Journal of Food Science 75(6), pp C549-C558
- (8) Garlic breath? Available at: www.telegraph.co.uk