Starting around age 60, even the healthiest of people will begin to experience a decline in their sense of taste. The decline is more pronounced at 70 when the tongue’s taste buds become less sensitive and the nerves in the nose that register smell require greater stimulation. Scientists estimate that a person will lose 20% to 60% of their taste buds by the time they reach their golden years.
Fun stuff to look forward to, right? (Unless you’re already there). More bad news: In lab tests, older people find it more difficult than younger people to identify sweet, bitter and salty tastes, or to distinguish differences in the concentration of these tastes. Which leads to the real bitterness of old age: The average person 65 years or older takes three or more drugs. Drugs that are secreted into the saliva can affect the taste system either by modifying taste transduction or by producing a taste of their own.
Some drugs will leave a perpetually unpleasant aftertaste. The antibiotic tetracycline can cause a lingering metallic taste if the capsule is allowed to dissolve on the back of the tongue. Aspirin can increase the sensitivity to bitter taste and there are several drugs that will cause a noticeable loss in the ability to distinguish among tastes. Diseases can also trigger changes in taste and smell.
Now, here’s the good news. There are ways you can improve your taste sensitivity.
* Avoid overexposing your taste buds to any one flavor, as this can temporarily deaden your sensitivity. Switching from one food to another several times during a meal can help avoid taste bud desensitization.
* Avoid eating foods when they are very hot or very cold as the flavors are less intense.
* After brushing your teeth, wait 10 to 15 minutes to eat. Lauryl sulfate, an ingredient in toothpaste will trigger a drop in taste sensitivity.
* Quit smoking (if you haven’t already). Smoking has been suspected of either inhibiting or destroying the mouth’s ability to function properly.
*Ask your doctor about the potential side effects of any newly prescribed drug.
* Curious where you fall on the taste sensitivity scale? Check out the Supertaster Test Order Form HERE (the first 20 people to sign up from BA50 will receive a FREE kit!)