Bad breath according to Chinese Medicine

Bad breath can be the consequence of several so-called “patterns of disharmony” in Chinese Medicine.

Chinese Medicine sees the body as a system, not a sum of isolated parts. A "pattern" is when the system's harmony is disrupted, leading to symptoms or signs that something is wrong (like bad breath here). It is similar to the concept of disease in Western Medicine but not quite: a Western disease can often be explained by several Chinese patterns and vice-versa.

A pattern often manifests itself in a combination of symptoms that, at first glance, do not seem necessarily related to each others. For instance here bad breath is often associated with dry stools, dry mouth and dry throat in the pattern “Large Intestine Dryness”. As you will see below, we have in record two patterns that can cause bad breath.

Once identified, patterns are treated using medicinal herbs, acupuncture, and other therapies. In the case of bad breath we’ve identified four herbal formulas that may help treat patterns behind the symptom.

We’ve also selected below the five medicinal herbs that we think are most likely to help treat bad breath.

The two "patterns of disharmony" that can cause bad breath

In Chinese Medicine bad breath is a symptom for 2 patterns that we have on record. Below is a small explanation for each of them with links for more details.

The Large Intestine is a so-called "Fu" Organ. Learn more about the Large Intestine in Chinese Medicine

Large Intestine Dryness

Pulse type(s): Fine (Xi)

In addition to bad breath, other symptoms associated with Large Intestine Dryness include dry stools, dry mouth and dry throat.

Large Intestine Dryness is often treated with Zeng Ye Tang, a herbal formula made of 3 herbs (including Ningpo Figwort Roots - Xuan Shen - as a key herb). Zeng Ye Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that enrich yin and moisten dryness", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Nourishes Yin and Essence".

Read more about Large Intestine Dryness here

The Stomach is a so-called "Fu" Organ. Learn more about the Stomach in Chinese Medicine

Stomach Heat or Fire

Pulse type(s): Rapid (Shu), Slippery (Hua), Full (Shi)

Tongue coating: Yellow coating

Tongue color: Red centre

Stomach Fire indicates a true Excess of Heat in the Stomach, creating symptoms such as mouth ulcers, bad breath, intense thirst and gum bleeding. Stomach Fire can be the result of excessive intake of hot, spicy, greasy and deep fried foods or other factors such as alcohol, tobacco and sugar.

In addition to bad breath, other symptoms associated with Stomach Heat or Fire include dry stools, dry mouth and irritability.

Stomach Heat or Fire is often treated with Tiao Wei Cheng Qi Tang, a herbal formula made of 3 herbs (including Rhubarb - Da Huang - as a key herb). Tiao Wei Cheng Qi Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that purge heat accumulation", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Removes Heat and Dryness in the Lower Burner".

Read more about Stomach Heat or Fire here

Four herbal formulas that might help with bad breath

Zeng Ye Tang

Source date: 1798 AD

Number of ingredients: 3 herbs

Key actions: Nourishes Yin and Essence. Lubricates Dryness.

Why might Zeng Ye Tang help with bad breath?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Large Intestine Dryness' of which bad breath is a symptom.

Read more about Zeng Ye Tang here

Ma Zi Ren Wan

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Key actions: Moistens the Intestines. Invigorates Qi. Unblocks the bowels. Drains Heat.

Why might Ma Zi Ren Wan help with bad breath?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Large Intestine Dryness' of which bad breath is a symptom.

Read more about Ma Zi Ren Wan here

Tiao Wei Cheng Qi Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 3 herbs

Key actions: Removes Heat and Dryness in the Lower Burner. Removes constipation.

Why might Tiao Wei Cheng Qi Tang help with bad breath?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Stomach Heat or Fire' of which bad breath is a symptom.

Read more about Tiao Wei Cheng Qi Tang here

Qing Wei San

Source date: 1336 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Key actions: Drains Stomach Fire. Cools the Blood. Nourishes the Yin.

Why might Qing Wei San help with bad breath?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Stomach Heat or Fire' of which bad breath is a symptom.

Read more about Qing Wei San here

Acupuncture points used for bad breath

The five Chinese Medicinal herbs most likely to help treat bad breath

Why might Liquorice (Gan Cao) help with bad breath?

Because Liquorice is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat bad breath as a symptom, like Tiao Wei Cheng Qi Tang or Cang Fu Dao Tan Wan for instance.

Liquorice is a Neutral herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Heart, the Lung, the Spleen and the Stomach.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Basal Qi and nourishes the Spleen Qi. Clears Heat and dispels toxicity. Moistens the Lungsexpel phlegm and stop coughing. Relieves spasms and alleviates pain. Harmonizes and moderates the effects of other herbs.

Read more about Liquorice here

Why might Unprepared Rehmannia (Di Huang) help with bad breath?

Because Unprepared Rehmannia is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat bad breath as a symptom, like Zeng Ye Tang or Qing Wei San for instance.

Unprepared Rehmannia is a Cold herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Heart, the Kidney and the Liver.

Its main actions are: Expels Heat by Cooling Blood. Tonifies Yin by promoting Fluid production. Soothes the Heart by calming Blazing Fire. Cools and nourishes.

Read more about Unprepared Rehmannia here

Why might Rhubarb (Da Huang) help with bad breath?

Because Rhubarb is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat bad breath as a symptom, like Tiao Wei Cheng Qi Tang or Ma Zi Ren Wan for instance.

Rhubarb is a Cold herb that tastes Bitter. It targets the Spleen, the Stomach, the Large intestine, the Liver and the Pericardium.

Its main actions are: Drains Excess Heat and eliminates Dampness, especially when in the Bright Yang stage according to the Six Stages Theory. Cools the Blood and stops bleeding. Invigorates Blood, breaks up Stasis and relieves pain. Clears Heat and toxins from Excess. Applied topically for Hot sores and Blood Stasis.

Read more about Rhubarb here

Why might Ningpo Figwort Root (Xuan Shen) help with bad breath?

Because it is a key herb in Zeng Ye Tang, a herbal formula indicated to treat the pattern 'Large Intestine Dryness' (a pattern with bad breath as a symptom)

Ningpo Figwort Roots is a Cold herb that tastes Bitter. It targets the Large intestine, the Liver and the Stomach.

Its main actions are: Expels true or Internal Heat and cools the Blood. Tonifies the Yin. Reduces inflammations and drains Fire toxicity. Reduces hard nodules, especially associated with the lymph.

Read more about Ningpo Figwort Roots here

Why might Black Atractylodes Rhizome (Cang Zhu) help with bad breath?

Because it is a key herb in Cang Fu Dao Tan Wan, a herbal formula indicated to treat the pattern '' (a pattern with bad breath as a symptom)

Black Atractylodes Rhizomes is a Warm herb that tastes Bitter and Pungent. It targets the Spleen and the Stomach.

Its main actions are: Dries Damp and tonifies the Spleen. Relieves the Exterior for invasion of Wind-Cold-Damp. Relieves Wind-Damp painful obstruction. Dries Damp for either Damp-Cold or Damp-Heat when combined with the correct herbs. Clears the eyes and improves sight.

Read more about Black Atractylodes Rhizomes here