“MS has my sense of taste wacky at times. Clean cup, fresh coffee, and my first sip tasted like pesto today!” one MyMSTeam member shared.
“Has anyone had MS take their ability to taste?” another asked. “Everything tastes the same.”
These two members of MyMSTeam are among the 25 percent of people with multiple sclerosis (MS) who experience loss or changes in their sense of taste. Losing your sense of taste (known medically as ageusia), or noticing changes in the way food tastes, can interfere with the enjoyment of eating. This can be followed by reduced appetite, low energy, and weight loss. Many people who lose their sense of taste also have a reduced ability to smell.
There are simple practices you can do to enhance your tasting abilities and make the most of your palate. These include exploring spices and a variety of food textures, taking time to smell your meal before eating, and chewing slowly while letting the food move around to different parts of your tongue. You can also ask your doctor or a registered dietitian for help with menu planning and tips to help you enjoy your food more.
However, a loss of the sense of taste can also be caused by MS flares, another health condition, or medication side effects, so it’s best to monitor any changes and share them with your doctor.
Read on for five important things to know about losing your sense of taste with MS.
While many people with MS experience changes in their ability to taste and smell different foods, there isn’t much research available that explains why. One study at the University of Pennsylvania asked 73 participants with MS to distinguish between substances with different kinds of tastes:
The researchers found that identifying these tastes was difficult for the participants with MS when compared with another group that did not have MS. In this study, salt was the most difficult for people with MS to taste, followed by sweet.
The results showed that loss of taste correlates to the size of MS lesions and having a higher number of lesions. The researchers suggested that MS lesions affecting specific parts of the brain may interfere with relaying sensory information for taste.
Some disease-modifying therapies (DMTs) for MS can cause side effects that affect the mouth, gums, and tongue. Several of these can cause symptoms like distorted sense of taste, mouth or tongue sores, and oral pain.
DMTs associated with mouth problems include:
Other medications used to treat MS symptoms can also affect the mouth. These include:
Corticosteroids used to treat an MS flare can increase the risk of oral fungal infections. This is especially true at higher doses and if steroids are taken over a long period of time.
If you’re experiencing a taste deficit or mouth ulcers, you might not feel like eating. Over time, skipping meals due to discomfort or because food tastes bland can lead to unhealthy weight loss or malnutrition. Not getting enough calories or eating a poor diet can worsen MS symptoms like fatigue or muscle weakness. Eating a balanced diet is always recommended for those with MS. If you don’t want to eat because of oral symptoms, or you’re losing weight without intending to, it’s time to talk to your doctor.
If you’re experiencing loss of taste, it might not be caused by MS. Many other conditions and medications can cause loss of taste, including:
Smoking can also reduce your sensation of taste. Studies have shown that quitting smoking –– in addition to being helpful for MS symptoms –– can restore many people’s sense of taste within a few months.
If you’re concerned your sense of taste is not as strong as it once was, it might be time to talk to your doctor. One member of MyMSTeam described a relapse that affected their taste buds: “I’ve had an attack which half affected my taste buds. Everything tasted bland, like nothing.”
If losing your sense of taste comes on suddenly, you should speak to your doctor right away, since it could be a sign of a relapse. It’s also time to see your doctor if:
Sometimes unintended weight loss can be a sign of something serious, so it’s important not to delay discussing it with your doctor.
MyMSTeam is the social network for people with MS and their loved ones. On MyMSTeam, more than 198,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with MS.
Are concerned about changes in your sense of taste? Do you have any advice for others who notice a change in taste? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.