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Acetone Breath: What Causes It and Is It Dangerous?

By Fitoru | 18 September 2019
Curly haired woman smelled something stinky plugging her nose

Did the person you’re talking to just crinkle her nose when they got a whiff of your breath? Does it taste fruity, metallic, or acidic? Then it looks like you’ve got a case of acetone breath, otherwise known as keto breath because it strikes during the ketogenic diet. It’s an alarming side effect, and one that you’re probably looking to squash immediately.

We’re here for you and your keto breath!

This article explains the cause of acetone breath, when you should be concerned, and how to get rid of it so your conversations can continue without the social awkwardness of bad breath.

What Causes Acetone Breath and Is It Safe?

When you start breathing fumes that smell not unlike nail polish remover, you may naturally worry that something’s gone wrong with your health, possibly your kidneys.

If you’ve given the keto diet a go, not to worry.

Acetone breath is a natural side effect that occurs when your body is so full of the ketone bodies derived from fatty acids that they have to be expelled via exhalation.

What causes an overabundance of ketone bodies? One of the most common causes is starting a keto diet.

Common Cause: The Keto Diet

The keto diet is a high-fat, low-carb diet designed to switch the body’s metabolism from using sugar (blood glucose) for energy to using fat (blood ketones).

Eating ketogenic meals activates the natural alternative metabolism known as ketosis that your body is built to access in times of famine—the fat stored on your body can be used as energy if you’re not eating enough to supply the body with fast-acting sugar energy. Weight loss and fat loss are welcome side benefits of the keto diet!

One temporary side effect of this changeover is that the body produces more ketones than it can, at first, process. Acetone is one of those ketones (along with beta hydroxybutyrate or BHB and acetoacetate). In fact, keto dieters can use breath tests to measure their breath acetone concentration as a reliable indicator of ketosis.

Concerning Cause: Ketoacidosis

Acetone breath is totally safe and natural for otherwise healthy keto dieters. But for people with type 1 diabetes (less so type 2 diabetes), acetone breath could be an indication of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), which is a life-threatening emergency.

Acetone breath in people with diabetes mellitus is a sign of extremely high blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia) that aren’t being processed, which is why the body has suddenly switched in a panic to accessing massive amounts of ketones for energy. Such a complication could lead to diabetic shock, coma, and even death if not treated quickly.

Long story short, while ketone levels in your urine and breath are not dangerous in and of themselves, it does matter what is causing them to be there.

If you’ve just begun a low-carbohydrate diet for fat loss, you can monitor your urine or breath samples to make sure you’re getting into ketosis ASAP, and it’s a good thing.

However, if you’re diabetic, any sign that your body isn’t interacting normally with your blood sugar levels is a medical emergency, and you should seek immediate professional care.

How to Cure Acetone Breath on Keto

If your acetone breath is brought on by a keto diet, you don’t have to worry that your body’s in danger. In fact, keto breath is a sign that your diet is successfully taking effect, and soon you’ll be in ketosis and dropping weight like hotcakes.

However, that doesn’t mean that acetone breath is any more welcome than halitosis: it’s bad breath, it’s embarrassing, and it can cause a strangely fruity yet metallic taste that interrupts the enjoyment of your meals, though it can be easily stopped with shortcuts like exogenous ketones.

The good news is that acetone breath is temporary and only occurs as you’re transitioning into ketosis. Once you’re there, you don’t have to worry about the effect your breath is having on others.

In the meantime, we have some tips for oral health on keto that can help you manage keto breath and gently get to a state of ketosis so you’ll be beyond this transition phase and free of its side effects for good.

Cover up Keto Breath with Gum, Mints, or Mouthwash

This is a crutch rather than a cure, but knowing that keto breath is a temporary side effect, you could just mask it for a week or two with strong gum, mints, or mouthwash in your desk drawer at work.

Your only concern here is that you want to make sure you’re consuming sugar-free mints and gum, because even a little amount of sugar unaccounted for in keto can kick you out of ketosis or leave you in this keto flu phase for longer than necessary.

Drink More Water

If you’re suddenly so riddled with more ketones than your body can handle that you have to breathe them out, that means your body is also trying to clean them out through your urine. By drinking more water and urinating more often, you can give your body the means to filter out ketones instead of exhaling them into the faces of your family, friends, and coworkers.

Not only does drinking more water help to flush out extra ketones, but it also keeps you hydrated and feeling fuller as you transition to a new diet. Studies show that drinking a glass of water before a meal significantly reduces calorie consumption by increasing satiation, making water consumption part of an effective weight-loss strategy (1).

Consume Less Protein

While the keto diet is mainly thought of as a high-fat and low-carb diet, it’s also a moderate-protein diet. “Moderate” means that about 20% of your daily calorie intake should be coming from protein.

But there’s a tightrope to walk when it comes to protein on the keto diet. You see, when the body metabolizes protein, the byproduct of that breakdown is ammonia, which leaves your body via urination and exhalation. Ammonia combined with acetone on your breath makes the whole concoction worse, so consider lowering your protein consumption until you’re safely stabilized in a state of ketosis. You may want to decrease your protein intake to 15% and increase your consumption of healthy fats like nuts and avocados.

Eat More Carbs and Wait Longer for Weight Loss

You may not like the sound of this, because you know that increasing your carbs could mean a delay in reaching ketosis. That is pretty much the point: by allowing your body access to just a little more carb energy while transitioning to ketosis, you can lessen the severity of keto flu symptoms.

If the choice is between 1 week of withering breath and other keto flu symptoms like keto headache, or waiting 2 to 3 weeks to start dropping weight but without such an intense hazing-like process…maybe you’d prefer to wait? It’s really a matter of personal preference and taking a realistic measure of just how uncomfortable your keto flu symptoms are.

Don’t Want to Wait for Weight Loss? Do This!

Your body takes its sweet ole time making ketones before you start burning fat. And during this time you’re having to deal with uncomfortable keto flu symptoms like keto breath.

But you can take a shortcut to ketosis and bypass the uncomfortable side effects by supplementing with exogenous ketones.

When you provide your body with ketone support in the forms of MCT oil and BHB oil it doesn’t have to work so hard or so long to get into ketosis. It’s like taking the Shanghai Maglev and traveling 19 miles in 7 minutes…or in this case getting into ketosis in 24 hours or less!

How to Own Acetone Breath

Turning your body into a fat-burning machine is a healthy way to prevent the development of metabolic disorders like obesity, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes. Our bodies are amazingly strong and adaptive, with two different ways to derive energy from our food. And the fact that science has revealed how to take control of our energy on such a cellular level is even more incredible.

Acetone on your breath can be inconvenient and unwelcome, but it’s a small price to pay in comparison to the benefits of the keto diet.

What Causes Acetone Breath?

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