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Taste and smell can change with the menopause. Falling oestrogen affects saliva, which can reduce or change our sensation of taste. Ageing can make these sensations less intense.
Menopause affects many things in our body, and while lots of the symptoms are well known, others come as a surprise for some women. A change to taste or smell is one of the menopause symptoms that raises a few eyebrows.
There’s a link between oestrogen and saliva, which means that for some women, falling oestrogen levels can result in a reduction in saliva flow from your salivary glands.
We all need saliva to break down food into individual chemicals. Taste buds detect those chemicals as different flavours. So if you have less saliva and dry mucous membranes, your taste sensation is reduced or changed.
If this happens to you, menopause isn’t necessarily the cause. Getting older can also affect your taste buds and sense of smell, making sensations less intense for both men and women. Taste buds don’t regenerate as quickly as they did before menopause, meaning there are fewer good ones left with which to taste.
Changes in taste and smell are common in life. It’s likely that up to 1 in 4 people have a sense of smell dysfunction and up to 1 in 5 of us have a taste dysfunction. These symptoms are reported by some as being more common in the menopause, made worse by menopause-related dry mouth, but there is a lack of data showing how frequently.
If the changes to taste and smell you are experiencing are related to decreasing oestrogen levels, they may happen at any stage of the menopause.
There are a few good habits to get into to help with this symptom of the menopause:
It’s essential to practice good dental hygiene and see your dentist regularly.
Staying hydrated during the menopause transition can help lessen symptoms, so always having a water bottle to hand is a great idea.
Chewing gum mimics eating and so can help release saliva into the mouth.
You can purchase these from your local pharmacy.
Some foods can leave you feeling dehydrated and irritated, so it’s best to steer clear of them during the menopause transition. These include anything very hot, spicy, salty, or crunchy. Sugary and acidic foods increase the risk of tooth decay.
Both of these can dry out and irritate your mouth. Try switching to herbal or decaffeinated tea and coffee for a while and see if it helps – it often does. Alcohol contains sugar and acid and increases your risk of tooth decay.
As well as reducing changes to taste and smell, your overall health could improve. If you would like help to quit, the NHS is a great place to start.
Lip balm can help keep lips hydrated (a knock-on effect of dry mouth is dry lips), and stop them from cracking and becoming painful and sore.
More studies are needed to find out if HRT can help with changes to taste and smell. It’s worth bearing in mind that HRT can effectively treat other symptoms of the menopause transition. You can learn more about HRT here.
If you’re worried about changes to your taste and smell you should seek medical advice from your GP or dentist. To talk about your symptoms in the context of the menopause, book an appointment with our menopause clinic.
Dr Clare Spencer
Registered menopause specialist, GP and co-founder
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Source: Rawal S, Hoffman HJ, Bainbridge KE, et al. Prevalence and risk factors of self-reported smell and taste alterations: results from the 2011–2012 US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Chem Senses 2016;41:69–76.