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People’s Pharmacy: Does milk cause bad breath?

Q. I have suffered from bad breath my entire life. It has caused me to be antisocial, though I am a very outgoing person. All through middle school and high school, I spent a fortune on chewing gum because I was so insecure.

My children and my niece and nephew also suffer from bad breath, and oddly enough our breath all smells the same. We are all milk drinkers. We make cookies or cakes just for an excuse to drink milk.

I recently noticed that when my daughter has milk before bed, her breath is much worse in the morning. I decided to cut down on the milk before bed also, and I can sense a difference in my breath. If I left it out of my diet entirely, would this help my breath? Could this be a form of lactose intolerance?

A. We have not been able to find any medical studies linking lactose intolerance and bad breath, but we have heard from other readers who have made this connection.


Q. My friend introduced me to yerba mate, a tea from South America. He said that if he drinks it in the afternoon, he feels alert but not jittery.

What can you tell me about yerba mate? I have high blood pressure, and I try to stay away from caffeine.

A. Yerba mate comes from a South American tree in the holly family, Ilex paraguariensis. It has long been a traditional beverage for tribes in the region. In Argentina and Uruguay, drinking mate is a social event.

The leaves contain caffeine, theobromine and theophylline, and all appear in the brew. The caffeine content is between tea and coffee. It has less theobromine than cocoa. The drink is rich in polyphenols that might have health benefits, but there aren’t many studies.

One small clinical trial showed that yerba mate did not affect blood pressure or heart rate (Phytomedicine, October 1999).

We suggest you measure your blood pressure before and after drinking a cup to see how it affects you.


Q. I have suffered with an itchy scalp for years, and now dandruff is adding to my misery. I have several expensive dark sweaters that I love. My sports jackets and suits also are dark, and my wife is constantly brushing my shoulders and back to try to get rid of the unsightly flakes.

I have tried medicated shampoo, without much success. Do you have any other remedies?

A. An itchy, flaky scalp could be due to a yeastlike fungus called Malassezia. Treating this overgrowth with home remedies may be more effective than you would think.

Readers of this column report that soaking the scalp with old-fashioned amber Listerine after shampooing does the trick. A variation is to mix Listerine with baby oil and leave it on the scalp for at least five minutes. The essential oils and alcohol in Listerine have anti-fungal activity.

Herbal teas made with rosemary or sage also can be used as a rinse to discourage dandruff.

You will find details on these and other natural treatments for dandruff in our Guide to Hair and Nail Care. Anyone who would like a copy, please send $3 in check or money order with a long (No. 10), stamped (70 cents), self-addressed envelope to: Graedons’ People’s Pharmacy, No. H-31, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027. It also can be downloaded for $2 from our website:

One small study concluded that taking the probiotic Lactobacillus paracasei could ease dandruff (Skin and Allergy News, November 2009). It might be worth a try.