“I kept telling my husband the asparagus had gone off, and he kept eating it and saying, ‘No, it’s fine.’ It tasted awful to me. That was the first time I noticed my sense of taste had changed. The next morning was the last time I drank coffee. It's just too bitter for me now.”
Many women have approached us with a similar complaint: food just doesn’t taste like it used to. It might seem like one of the more unusual menopause symptoms, but it's actually relatively common.
Does your morning coffee taste bland, your dessert a bit less sweet, or maybe you have a constant bitter or metallic taste in your mouth? Some change in taste happens to us all as we get older, but women in menopause may notice a more marked change in how they perceive flavors.
Why does just about anything happen at this time of life? Blame it – at least in part – on declines in estrogen. Just as other parts of the body lose moisture (skin, eyes, sinuses, vagina) when estrogen is reduced, so does your mouth. And that decline in moisture is partly to blame.
Here’s the kicker: you need saliva to taste food. The moisture (plus chewing) breaks down the food to component chemicals which the receptors on your taste buds can detect and translate to sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and savory (umami) flavors. Therefore, having less saliva and dry mucus membranes in the mouth can reduce or change our sensation of taste.
(Also, because saliva protects your mouth against bacteria, as your mouth dries, you may find you have more dental problems such as cavities or receding gums. Read more about the effects of menopausal dry mouth.)
We can’t blame it all on being abandoned by estrogen, however; as we age, we also lose some sense of smell. Because smell and taste are so intimately linked, a less vivid sense of smell can result in a less intense sensation of flavor. Menopause and sense of smell have a complicated relationship, and both can seem to change throughout that period.
Aging also affects your taste buds, slowing the rapid regeneration and shrinking the number of cells, so we just have fewer good taste buds to do the tasting with. This happens to men and women and is a function of age rather than menopause. But when added to dry mouth, it can result in women losing more of their sensation of flavor. Menopause and dry mouth are a heck of a combination.
For some women, the problem isn’t just strange tastes or reduced intensity of flavor, it’s a burning of tongue, lips, or gums. While burning mouth syndrome is relatively rare, it is most common in women in midlife.
Hear how Menopause Goddess Lynette Sheppard helped a woman overcome burning mouth syndrome
Let’s face it – food plays a huge role in our lives beyond just providing sustenance. Think of an occasion, celebratory or solemn, that doesn’t involve food. See? From 4th of July picnics to wedding cakes, food is central to just about major and minor event in life, and we want to be able to enjoy it.
So what to do if we’re losing our ability to taste?
First, see an ear, nose, and throat specialist. There are other causes of changes to or loss of taste, including Sjögren’s Syndrome, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, hypothyroidism, head injury, nasal polyps, certain medications, and smoking. Be sure to rule out more serious possibilities. COVID-19 can also disrupt taste and smell, though that change tends to be very dramatic and sudden.
Once you’re sure it’s none of those, there are a few things you can do to enjoy your meals more:
1. Keeping the mouth hydrated is one way to combat a loss of taste: chewing sugar-free gum and drinking plenty of water during menopause may help.
2. Using new and different spices and flavors can trigger stronger sensations.
3. Eat mindfully: get rid of distractions so you can focus on your food, concentrating on one flavor at a time.
4. Add fat. Healthy fats, while they may not increase the flavor, can improve mouth feel – that lovely sensation of richness. That can often fill in the gap flavor leaves behind.
5.Quit smoking. Smoking has a negative effect on your estrogen. It can decrease flavor and smell sensitivity even quicker.
6.Simple foods may be easier to enjoy because the flavors aren’t diluted in combination. Go with one- or two-ingredient dishes. Don’t, however, increase the sugar and salt just to get the same level of flavor you’re used to – too much of those can be really bad for your body, and chances are you’ll adjust in time to subtler flavors.
If you're not eating the way you usually do because of changes in taste, be sure you're still getting enough nutrients. You may find changes in energy and digestion resulting from these changes. While it's understandable that you might change your diet to compensate for changes in taste, don't miss out on the vitamins, minerals, and fiber that will keep your body working well. Gennev's Vitality supplements can supply what you may be missing.
If your sense of taste is really wonky, consider having someone else smell or taste your food if there’s any concern it might be off or contaminated. Our senses don’t exist just to help us enjoy our nourishment, they also protect us from ingesting things that can make us sick, so if your detectors aren’t working, find someone whose taster is fully functional or throw out anything questionable.
*As always, this blog is for informational purposes only; if you think you have a serious problem going on, stop reading right now and call your doc.
If you've experienced changes in how food tastes, a Gennev menopause-certified gynecologist can give you a trusted opinion, determine if medication is right for you, and they can provide prescription support. Book an appointment with a doctor here.
We’d love to know how you’re dealing with it. Do you have some fabulous recipes to wake up sleepy taste buds or make our mouths water so much, we have all the saliva we need? Share. Please. We beg you. Give ’em up in the comments below, on Gennev's Facebook page, or in Midlife & Menopause Solutions, our closed Facebook group.