Loss of taste and smell: Causes and cures

Loss of taste and smell: Causes and cures

Senses of smell and taste naturally decline with age, but studies find that people with an impaired ability to smell and taste tend to follow less healthy diets

Improve your sense of taste

Loss of taste and smell: causes and cures -  man tasting sauce with a mixing spoon over a frying pan Credit: miniseries

Add spices to your food. Even if your senses of smell and taste are a little jaded, you should still retain full function in your "irritant" nerve, the nerve that makes you cry when you cut an onion. So use spices such as hot chilli powder to liven up your food.

Indulge in a dozen oysters. Among their other benefits, oysters are one of the highest food sources of zinc, and zinc deficiencies contribute to a loss of the senses of smell and taste.

Eat only when you are hungry. Our sense of smell (and thus taste) is strongest when we're hungriest.

Chew thoroughly and slowly. This releases more flavour and extends the time that the food lingers in your mouth so that it spends more time in contact with your taste buds. Even before you start chewing, stir your food around—this aerates the molecules in the food, releasing more of their scent.

Eat a different food with every forkful. Instead of eating the entire steak at once, then moving on to the potato, take a bite of steak, then a bite of potato, etc. Varying the scents and tastes as you eat keeps your olfactory nerves from getting bored.

Make a list of any medications you're taking and ask your doctor about their effect on smell and taste. Hundreds of medications affect taste and smell, including statins, antidepressants, high blood pressure medicines and chemotherapy drugs such as methotrexate, also used to treat rheumatoid arthritis.

"Make a list of any medications you're taking and ask your doctor about their effect on smell and taste"

If you need to, talk to your doctor about possible alternatives or lower doses, but don’t stop taking your medication or cut the dosage yourself.

Things to avoid

Stub out that cigarette and make it your last. Nothing messes up the smell receptors in your nose and the taste receptors on your tongue like cigarettes. Long-term smoking can even permanently damage the olfactory nerves in the back of your nose.

Reset your taste for sugar and salt. Processed foods have so much sugar and salt that you practically stop tasting them if you eat them often. Try this experiment: check the salt content of your cereal; if it has more than 0.5g salt (0.2g sodium) per serving, switch to a low-salt brand for 2 weeks. Once you switch back, you'll taste all the salt you were overlooking. The same goes for sugar.

Avoid very hot foods and fluids. They can damage your taste buds.

Remedies for loss of taste

Serve food that looks like itself. If you're serving fish, keep it looking like a fish. Your sense of taste is stronger if your brain can connect what you're eating with how it looks.

Drink a glass of water every hour or so, because a dry mouth, whether due to medication or simply dehydration, can adversely affect your sense of taste.

Eat in a restaurant or with other people. Studies find that eating in the presence of other people makes food taste better than eating alone.

Remedies for loss of smell

Loss of taste and smell: causes and cures - young woman holding and smelling a bouquet of flowers in lavender fieldCredit: DeanDrobot

Humidify the air in the winter. Our sense of smell is strongest in the summer and spring, most likely because of the higher moisture content in the air.

Go for a brisk ten-minute walk or run. Our sense of smell is higher after exercise. Researchers think it may be related to additional moisture in the nose.

Prolonged exposure to unpleasant smells tends to wipe out your ability to smell. So if you must be exposed to such odours on a prolonged basis, wear a mask over your nose and mouth that filters out some of the bad smells.

Blow your nose then clean it out with saline spray. A simple thing, but it can help, because a blocked nose means blocked nerve receptors.

Stick to one glass of wine or beer. Some research finds that the sense of smell declines as blood alcohol levels rise.

Try sniff therapy. It's possible to train your nose (and brain) to notice smells better. Start by sniffing something with a strong odour for two minutes a few times a day. Do this for three or four months and you should notice your sense of smell getting stronger–at least for that item.

Banner credit: Antonio_Diaz

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