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Taste and MS

By Laura Kolaczkowski

How often when eating do you think… ‘this doesn’t taste right’ or ‘where’s the flavor in this dish?’ It might well not be the food or drink you are sampling but your own taste buds, especially if you have multiple sclerosis. In the study Taste dysfunction in MS, by Richard Doty and co-investigators from the University of Pennsylvania, they come to the conclusion that people with multiple sclerosis might have their tastes altered by lesions in the brain or some other as yet unidentified process.

In their study they used people with MS and matched controls, which means the controls were of the same sex, age, and other identifying traits. The study cohort of 73 people with MS and 73 matched controls was large enough to mean the outcomes could be labeled significant. Both groups were tested on the basis tastes – sweet, sour, bitter and salty. The group of people with MS had a significant difference in which tastes they were able to distinguish, with a marked difference in the salty and sweet categories.

As noted in the abstract for Taste dysfunction in MS –

“Taste identification scores were significantly lower in the MS patients for sucrose (p = 0.0002), citric acid (p = 0.0001), caffeine (p = 0.0372) and NaCl (p = 0.0004) and were present in both anterior and posterior tongue regions. The percent of MS patients with identification scores falling below the 5th percentile of controls was 15.07 % for caffeine, 21.9 % for citric acid, 24.66 % for sucrose, and 31.50 % for NaCl.”1

A point they found within their work that I find of interest is women in both the subject and control groups outperformed the men – meaning women overall have better tuned taste buds. This doesn’t surprise me because I have watched for years as my husband added salt, hot sauce, and ketchup for seasoning to so many dishes which are perfectly fine to my tastes. The flip side is I have a keen appreciation for the nuance of the flavor of sweets, particularly chocolates,  which don’t thrill his taste buds at all; I eat little of foods that are salty, which seem to be one of his particular favorites.

Why might this be an important study? Our senses, particularly smell and taste, are critical to our appetite. If something is not appealing, we often choose not to eat it. That’s no big problem if it is simply a few food items such as broccoli or salmon, both of which do not taste good to me and I skip those when offered; there are plenty of other foods such as steak and chocolate which do tickle my taste buds and appetite is not one of my problems. But for some people with MS, there is a concern about their nutrition and lack of desire to eat, which might be connected in some way to the food or beverages just not tasting good. This problem can also be a serious factor in affecting our quality of life. The authors mention that this problem will not affect a large number of people with MS but it is worth taking note of by neurologists who are caring for people who struggle with caloric intake and maintaining weight.

Although there is no ‘cure’ for faulty wired taste buds, knowing this problem could be caused by food and drink not tasting right thanks to multiple sclerosis, might allow for adjustments to the diet of people with MS to meet their nutritional needs.

Wishing you well,


Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by MULTIPLESCLEROSIS.NET
Note: Materials may be edited for content and length

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