Taste Disorders (cont.)
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Can taste disorders be treated?
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Many types of taste disorders are curable. For those that are not, counseling is available to help people adjust to their problem.
Diagnosis by an otolaryngologist is important to identify and treat the underlying cause of your disorder. If a certain medication is the cause, stopping or changing your medicine may help eliminate the problem. (Do not stop taking your medications unless directed by your doctor, however.) Some people, notably those with respiratory infections or allergies, regain their sense of taste when these conditions are resolved. Often, the correction of a general medical problem also can correct the loss of taste. Occasionally, a person may recover his or her sense of taste spontaneously. Proper oral hygiene is important to regaining and maintaining a well-functioning sense of taste.
If you lose some or all of your sense of taste, there are things you can do to make your food taste better:
What research is being done?
The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) supports basic and clinical investigations of taste and smell disorders at institutions across the nation. Some of these studies are conducted at chemosensory research centers, where scientists work together to uncover how our gustatory system works.
Some of the most recent research in this area focuses on identifying the key receptors expressed by our taste cells and understanding how they work. So far, researchers have identified the taste cells and receptors for detecting sour, sweet, bitter, and umami tastes. Researchers are also working to develop a better understanding of how sweet and bitter substances attach to their targeted receptors. The goal is to develop non-caloric artificial sweeteners and bitter blockers, substances that block the bitter taste of some foods or medicines.
A recent NIDCD-funded study has shown that small variations in our genetic code can raise or lower our sensitivity to sweet tastes, which might influence a person's desire for sweets. Scientists have also made progress in understanding how our sense of taste changes as we age. Older adults often decide what to eat based on how much they like or dislike certain tastes. Scientists are looking at how and why this happens in order to develop more effective ways to help older people cope better with taste problems.
Scientists are also working to find out why some medications and medical procedures can have a harmful effect on our senses of taste and smell. They hope to develop treatments to help restore the sense of taste to people who have lost it.
Scientists are gaining a better understanding of why the same receptor that helps our tongue detect sweet taste can also be found in the human gut. Recent research has shown that the sweet receptor helps the intestine to sense and absorb sugar and turn up the production of blood sugar-regulation hormones, including the hormone that regulates insulin release. Further research may help scientists develop drugs targeting the gut taste receptors to treat obesity and diabetes.
Finally, taste cells -- as well as sensory cells that help us smell -- are the only sensory cells in the human body that are regularly replaced throughout life. Researchers are exploring how and why this happens in order that they might find ways to replace other damaged sensory cells.
NIDCD-supported research in the chemosensory sciences include studies to:
SOURCE: National Institutes of Health (www.nih.gov)
Last Editorial Review: 12/17/2004
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