Zinc Improves Impared Taste Ability

Healthnotes Newswire (December 8, 2005)—People who suffer from a loss of taste sensation may benefit from supplementing with the mineral zinc, reports the Journal of Dental Research (2005;84:35–8).

Cells located in the taste buds on the tongue and on the roof of the mouth carry messages to the brain about the taste of different substances. These cells are constantly replaced as they become old or damaged. Taste is also influenced by the sense of smell. For example, it is difficult to taste foods when the nose is obstructed, as during an episode of the common cold.

Dysgeusia—an impairment of taste function that can range from a distorted sensation of taste to a complete loss of taste—can be caused by upper respiratory tract infection, hormonal changes, tobacco smoke, or nasal polyps. Certain medications, like the blood pressure–lowering drug captopril (Capoten) and antibiotics such as metronidazole (Flagyl), may also cause an altered sensation of taste. Sometimes, the cause of dysgeusia is unknown; this is called idiopathic dysgeusia.

Loss of taste can decrease the pleasure in eating and lead to a loss of social contact, weight changes, and depressed mood. Because taste disorders may be confused with those related to smell, a doctor who specializes in diseases of the ears, nose, and throat (an otolaryngologist) should be consulted to make an appropriate diagnosis.

Zinc is an essential mineral needed for wound repair, healthy immune function, and proper growth. Oysters are the most abundant food source of zinc; meat, fortified cereals, beans, and wheat germ also contain high amounts of the nutrient. Inadequate zinc intake can lead to taste dysfunction.

The new study investigated the use of zinc in the treatment of idiopathic dysgeusia in 50 people. They received either 140 mg of zinc gluconate per day (providing 20 mg of elemental zinc) for three months or a placebo. Taste tests measured taste function before and after treatment, and the people rated the severity of their dysgeusia. Tests were also given to assess mood changes and depression that may be related to taste impairment.

Taste sensation improved significantly in the zinc group compared with the placebo group. In addition, 50% of the people in the zinc group rated their dysgeusia as improved, compared with only 25% of the people receiving placebo. Depression also improved significantly in the zinc group; there were no such changes in the placebo group. Zinc treatment was not associated with any adverse effects.

Previous studies have shown that zinc may play a role in the regeneration of taste buds. The new study suggests that this important nutrient may help improve taste sensation in people with dysgeusia.

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp practices as a birth doula and lectures on topics including whole-foods nutrition, detoxification, and women’s health.

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