Feeling repulsed by the taste of your once daily coffee habit? Maybe your favourite scented candle smell different to normal? A change to taste and smell is one of the menopause symptoms that raises a few eyebrows.
Our oestrogen levels and saliva is linked, which means that for some women, falling oestrogen during the menopause can result in a reduction in saliva flow from the 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 change.
If you’re experiencing this symptom, the 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 fast as they did before the menopause, meaning there are fewer good ones left with which to taste.
If the changes to your taste and smell are related to decreasing oestrogen levels, they may happen at any stage of the menopause.
The good news: there are some handy habits to get into to help with this symptom of the menopause.
GOOD DENTAL HYGIENE
It’s essential to practice good dental hygiene and see your dentist regularly.
DRINK PLENTY OF FLUIDS
Staying hydrated during the menopause can help lessen the symptoms, so be sure to always have a bottle of water to hand.
Chewing gum can help stimulate the production of salvia in the mouth. And if it’s sugar-free, even better!
ARTIFICIAL SALIVA PASTILLES AND SPRAYS
Pick them up from your local pharmacy.
AVOID CERTAIN FOODS
If you love anything hot, spicy, salty or crunchy foods, we’re sorry to say that it’s best to stay clear of them during the menopause. It’s because certain foods, like these, can leave you feeling dehydrated and irritated. Sugary and acidic foods can also increase the risk of tooth decay.
AVOID ALCOHOL AND CAFFEINE
Both of these can dry out and irritate your mouth. The good news? Herbal or decaffeinated tea and coffee are good alternatives that often help.
Also, alcohol contains sugar and acid and increases your risk of tooth decay.
Smoking slows down the saliva production so as well as helping with this, stopping could also help improve your overall help. If you would like support with quitting for good, the NHS is a great place to start.
APPLY LIP BALM
Cherry-, strawberry-, or mint-flavoured? Whatever lip balm you choose, it could help keep lips hydrated (a knock-on effect of dry mouth is dry lips), stopping them from cracking and becoming painful and sore.
HORMONE REPLACEMENT THERAPY (HRT)
More studies are needed to find out if HRT can help with changes to taste and smell. But it’s worth bearing in mind that HRT can effectively treat other symptoms of the menopause.
HINTS AND TIPS FOR THOSE WHO WANT TO SUPPORT SOMEONE THEY THINK MAY BE ENTERING OR IN MENOPAUSE
Taste and smell are intimately linked, so a less vivid sense of sell can result in a less intense sensation of flavour for them.
It’s common for people to notice this change, and it’s usually nothing to worry about. But there are things you can do to help them have an easier ride.
OUR ADVICE TO THEM
We’ve recommended that they avoid spicy foods and acidic drinks, and use artificial saliva pastilles or sprays.
If they also quit smoking, apply lip balm and practice good dental hygiene among other tips we’ve recommended, then they are doing all the right things to help with changes to taste and smell.
ASK THEM TO EXPLAIN
Don’t assume you know what their symptom feels like. Gently ask them to explain the effect it is having on them physically and emotionally.
You may not be able to do anything to make them feel better. But they may not want answers, they may just need to talk – and be properly heard. Switch your listening ears on and give them your full attention.
ENCOURAGE THEM TO SPEAK TO PROS
If changes to their sense of taste and smell have been going on for a while, or seem to be getting worse, gently encourage them to talk to their doctor about taking Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT).
HRT could help ease oral health conditions. Why not offer to go to appointments with them to show your support?
STUB OUT SMOKING
Did you know that if you decide to quit together you are almost six times more likely* to kick nicotine than going it alone?
Help them say goodbye to cigarettes forever by ditching the smokes too. You can then keep each other going, avoid temptation and bash those cravings on the nose.
*Research by the Imperial College London
CREATE A WEEKLY MEAL PLAN
Planning meals ahead is a good way to get an overview of what she’s eating, and it will help them explore their changed sense of taste and smell.
Shop for the ingredients together and share the cooking where you can. You could even sign up for a cookery class to learn some new culinary skills.
If you’re worried about changes in taste or smell, you should see your GP who can discuss your symptoms in the context of the menopause.
If you'd like more information, we have put some further references below for you: