Do You Know Nutrition: Age, dry mouth factor in diminished sense of taste

By Phylis Canion
July 24, 2012 at 2:24 a.m.

Phylis Canion

Phylis Canion

I am 66 years old, and in the last year or so, it seems like I am losing my sense of taste. I am wondering if it is something I am eating or something that I should be eating. What can cause the loss of taste? I enjoy fine foods, so anything you can share with me would be appreciated.

We have almost 10,000 taste buds inside our mouths. Taste buds play one of the most important roles in helping you enjoy the many flavors of the food you eat. Your taste buds can recognize four basic kinds of tastes: sweet, salty, sour and bitter.

The salty/sweet taste buds are located near the front, or tip, of your tongue; the sour taste buds line the sides of your tongue; and the bitter taste buds are found at the very back of your tongue. Everyone's tastes are different, and, as you well know, your taste changes as you age with the loss of about half of your taste buds by the age of 60. When you were a baby, not only did you have taste buds on your tongue, but also on the roof of your mouth.

As you age, the taste buds move into their positions on the tongue where they will remain for the remainder of your life. A few final facts - taste buds last about 10 days, so the body is constantly making new ones, every single person has their own unique tongue print, and a person cannot taste their food unless it is mixed with saliva.

Hard to believe? Dry your tongue and drop some salt on it - there is no taste until you drop some saliva on the salt. Taste is affected by smoking, vitamin and mineral deficiency, injury to the head, brain tumors, medications, chemical exposure and the effects of radiation.

I have been suffering from really bad breath lately, and I am perplexed. I have tried several different brands of bad breath mints, breath sprays, tongue scrapers and mouthwashes, but they seem to help for only a short period of time and then it comes right back. I am a young person and this is bothersome and embarrassing. Please help me.

Mouthwashes and most bad breath products are effective against bad breath usually caused by intraoral factors. Gargling, scraping and sucking on mints may not be effective if your problem is from an imbalance of bacteria in your intestinal tract. Our system only has three avenues of excreting toxins - our breath, our gas and the smell of our stool, and through our skin.

How healthy your digestive system is can be determined by these factors. One of the primary fuels for bad breath, according to Dr. Joseph Mercola, M.D., is sugar and grains that rapidly break down to sugar. When you eat these highly processed foods, they cause the bad odor - causing bacteria to grow out of control. Once you eliminate the fuel, it is important to replenish the good bacteria with a probiotic that will help restore the balance of your digestive system.

And of course, water, which helps keep your mouth moist and is most important in flushing toxins from the system. You mentioned "lately" in your question, which makes me wonder what has changed in your lifestyle or diet of recent that could be a factor. Stress, a change in medication or recovery from an illness can all be key components as well.

Thought for the week: Attitude determines Altitude.

The next free nutrition class will be at 7 p.m. Aug. 13 at Organic Emporium.

Phylis B. Canion is a doctor of naturopathic medicine and is a certified nutritional consultant, email her at This column is for nutritional information only and is not intended to treat, diagnose or cure.



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