Why you should never use mouthwash after exercise

Exercising is one of the best ways to lower your blood pressure. In fact, getting more exercise can lower your systolic blood pressure (the top number) as much as some blood pressure medications.

If you have high blood pressure, that’s empowering. It’s enough to get you out on your bike, walking into that yoga studio or signing the contract with that personal trainer, so you can finally get your butt (and blood pressure) in gear.

But before you rest all your hopes of taming your blood pressure on your exercise regimen, there’s something you need to know…

Exercise may be one of the best ways to lower your blood pressure. But there’s something that can keep your hard, sweaty exercise sessions from paying off. And it’s something you’d never expect — your mouthwash.

Post-workout mouthwash means higher blood pressure

A new study from researchers at the University of Plymouth and the Centre of Genomic Regulation in Barcelona, Spain found that your antibacterial mouthwash could keep exercise from having the desired effect on your blood pressure reading.

The study included 23 people who ran on a treadmill for 30 minutes on two separate occasions. After each exercise session, they rinsed their mouth with antibacterial mouthwash or the control (mint-flavored water). They rinsed their mouths one, 30, 60 and 90 minutes after exercising.

Two hours after exercising, researchers took their blood pressure. And guess what? People who rinsed with mouthwash had higher blood pressure. Their blood pressure only went down 2.0 mmHg instead of 5.2 mmHg (which is the drop people who didn’t use mouthwash experienced).

And guess what? Previous studies examined the effect of mouthwash on blood pressure without adding exercise into the equation… and the results were similar. Mouthwash can increase blood pressure when you’re resting too.

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Why in the world would mouthwash have an impact on your blood pressure?

Well, it’s all about your microbiome, baby. Your mouth is filled with bacteria — good and bad. And one thing the bacteria in your mouth does is help your body produce nitric oxide gas, a natural vasodilator that’s been studied for its ability to improve blood pressure.

So, killing off all that bacteria indiscriminately with an antibacterial mouthwash is risky. You never know what effect it’s going to have on your health because you’re killing the stuff that helps you too.

Do you need to give up mouthwash for better blood pressure?

The mouthwash researchers used in this latest study contained 0.2% chlorhexidine. Chlorhexidine is a heavy-duty antibacterial agent that’s typically only in prescription mouthwashes. But I’d be careful with any intense antibacterial mouthwash you find on store shelves. Your mouth microbiome is delicate and dousing it with major antimicrobials can clearly cause harm.

So, how do you maintain a healthy, balanced microbiome in your mouth instead of taking a scorched earth approach?

Well, a lot of the tips that improve your gut microbiome apply to your oral microbiome too, like:

  • Eating more fruits and vegetables. Fruits and veggies promote microbial balance throughout your entire body. Period.
  • Ditching the sweet stuff. Bad bacteria thrive on sweets, which is why soda and candy gave you all those childhood cavities.
  • Trying natural dental care. You don’t need to give up mouthwash altogether. The ingredients in natural mouthwashes and kinds of toothpaste are less extreme. The popular oral health ingredient xylitol, for example, can decrease the number of bad bacteria in your oral microbiome while increasing some of the good guys.

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  1. Mouthwash use could inhibit benefits of exercise, new research shows — MedicalXpress
  2. Post-exercise hypotension and skeletal muscle oxygenation is regulated by nitrate-reducing activity of oral bacteria — Free Radical Biology and Medicine
  3. Exercise: A drug-free approach to lowering high blood pressure — Mayo Clinic
  4. Xylitol and sorbitol effects on the microbiome of saliva and plaque — Journal of Oral Microbiology
  5. Acquiring and maintaining a normal oral microbiome: current perspective — Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology
Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.