Q: Breath Odor & Depression
I too have noticed my bipolar wife's breath smells bad when she's severely
depressed. I'm certain that there is something related going on here because her
breath is always un-noticeable when she's on an even keel, but once she gets
depressed, there is a very prevelant odor. Does the body send out
breath odor to indicate that there's too much or too little of a certain
nutrient? Could it be something as simple as say for instance, more salt is
needed in her diet?
Dear Mr. H'
Spouses and other close family members can often tell "something's different"
when a person's mood/energy changes with bipolar cycling, so I wouldn't ignore
what you're describing, although I've never heard this one. I doubt that it's
something as simple as a "missing nutrient" signal, but who knows? We still
don't have a good chemical explanation for bipolar cycling -- as opposed to
depression alone, where the molecular explanations are getting very far along;
I'd urge you to see what that looks like, for comparison; here's an attempt to
show how much is already understood, in plain English, about the brain
To speculate about what's going on here: I suppose when
she gets depressed she might eat less, perhaps little? When people are consuming
less than what they're burning every day, especially if it is a lot less, they
become "ketotic": they start releasing fuel molecules into the blood called "ketones",
from their fat stores. Ketones diffuse easily from the blood to the air in your
lungs, and they have a very noticeable odd odor, sometimes described as sort of
a sweet smell. So there's one way mood could easily come out with a smell --
but the smell you describe sounds worse. Ketones don't smell "bad", but they
definitely smell like something.
Then there's something as simple as not brushing her
teeth, I suppose; or not drinking enough fluids so that what's in her mouth is
not getting flushed as much by our own natural salivary secretions. Beyond that,
I 'd be really guessing. Clearly your question was something more along the
lines of the first paragraph. I wish there was a simple answer so we could get
on with using it! But any explanation for bipolar disorder is going to have to
connect directly into the story on depression, which as you can see from that
essay linked above is a very complicated story indeed. So while I'd be delighted
were we to stumble on a simple explanation with a simple answer, I doubt that's
what we'll find. And I'm usually rather optimistic, so this may mean
something! Thanks for your question.
Published September, 2005