Taste and multiple sclerosis

March 2, 2016

Emma-Louise Singh, Head of Fundraising OMS

It’s probably one of the lesser-reported symptoms of MS, but a research team at the University of Pennsylvania’s Smell and Taste Center concluded in March 2016 that there is a high incidence of poor ability to identify taste by people with MS.

Little had previously been known or studied regarding the relationship between taste and MS, although former research estimated that between 5 to 20% of people with MS experienced some kind of taste dysfunction. However, the article Taste Dysfunction in Multiple Sclerosis, published in the Journal of Neurology, concludes that not only are taste deficits more common than previously realised, but that the extent of this dysfunction correlates with the amount of damage in the brain, as revealed by MRI scans.

The study’s aim was to assess the ability to identify bitter, sour, sweet and salty tastes on different regions of the tongue, and compared 73 people with MS to 73 people without the condition across a 96-trial test of the four tastes, recording a ‘dysfunction’ when taste recognition was below the fifth percentile of the control group.

For the MS group, salt appeared to be the hardest taste to appreciate, with 31.5% falling below the normal level. Twenty-five percent had trouble recognising a sweet flavour, 22% with sour, and 15% with a bitter taste.

Furthermore, the researchers were able to identify that the taste scores were inversely proportional to the amount and volume of lesions which were evident on MRI scans of the different brain regions.

The study’s lead author and director of the Smell and Taste Center, Dr Richard Doty concluded that “This study represents the most comprehensive study performed to date on the influences of MS on the ability to taste. It appears that a sizeable number of these patients exhibit taste deficits, more so than originally thought.

This suggests that altered taste function, though less noticeable than changes in vision, is a relatively common feature in MS. These findings give us a better insight about the areas of the brain that are more likely to impact the dysfunction when scarred from the disease.”

A consistency between the groups with and without MS was that women fared better on the tests than men – a result attributed to the fact that women have more taste buds than men.

Professor George Jelinek from OMS commented that the researchers didn’t mention that this raises the possibility that how well people with MS can taste flavors could be used as a marker of the progression of the disease. If it correlates closely with MRI disease activity and damage, then preservation of taste function could be used to indicate that the disease is not progressing, rather than subjecting people with MS to repeated MRIs.

It also fits neatly in with our focus on mindfulness and mindful eating: to be aware and really taste our food is one focus of the OMS Program. Honing that skill and preserving that function is a pretty good barometer of wellness!

View the Discussion

13 thoughts on ‘Taste and multiple sclerosis

    • Dana, I know this is a very old post, but I am currently going through the same thing. It feels as if I have ate something hot and burned parts of my mouth, along with decreased taste. I had a bad attack exactly 4 months ago, double vision etc. Now looking back, my taste was one of the first things that was affected. Do you recall how long it took for you to get back to normal. I am hoping I don’t have much longer to go.

  1. When I had a bad attack I had days where food had very little taste at all. Now I know it was due to ms. It has gone back to normal since then.

  2. Kathy, so interesting, for several years I also smelled something burning, like coffee, an old fire or stale cigarettes but I could not find the origin…before I lost smell/taste, and before the dx.

  3. Ahh! Now I know that my hunch that my lost sense of smell (and impaired taste) 11 years ago (7 years before DX) was most probably one of my first signs of MS. It came immediately after a bad cold that accompanied the most stressful life experience for me. For months afterwards all I could smell was smoke and burning – not real of course. Gradually my sense of smell returned and my ability to taste too. I know that following the OMS Programme since 2012 has helped improve these senses – I can now smell jasmine and garden-dried clean sheets.

  4. I was diagnosed with MS at age 37 and am now closing in on 70 years of age. During the last 4-5 years, I have lost the ability to taste on the left side of my mouth — which is congruent with the fact that the left side of my body is weaker and the most affected by MS. Also the left side of my face is always numb. Now I see that other MS patients have the taste disorder. The one thing that puzzles me is that I have a SALTY taste in my mouth most of the time, even though I haven’t ingested salty foods and don’t use salt in my cooking. Has anyone else experienced this? Any ideas of how to combat this?

  5. Has there been any research with those of us that stuffer severe congnitive disfunction and those that have also lost taste , the statistics are quoted seem to be very much the same for loss of taste and cognitive loss. They may be one and the same?
    Also loss of taste and disfunction of vision (double vision) both at different times come back to normal in time.. ?

  6. I’ve noticed recently that my sense of smell is very much improved – I can identify most aromas and my food tastes great. My sense of smell used to be very sharp and I hadn’t realised it was yet another MS symptom. I put it down to aging!

    I’ve been following OMS 100% for six years and seen lots and lots of improvements in my mental and physical health. I also eat mindfully and have noticed more taste ‘explosions’ as my sense of smell/taste improves.

  7. Vaughan, I can only give you my personal experience but I do know there are many others with similar stories to tell.

    In early 2010 I was in a pretty bad way mentally. I couldn’t think straight, or remember anything, even participate in a meaningful conversation. Reading a book was difficult as I had trouble remembering the plot. Physically I was very very tired and I slurred my speech and I had intermittent partial vision loss. My mental quality of life was pretty rubbish! Looking back now I think I also had significant loss of taste/smell but that was the least of my worries.

    Now in 2016, my cognitive function is fully restored, my speech and vision are back to normal, the debilitating fatigue has gone. I put that down to 6 years of following the OMS lifestyle 100%. I don’t take any drugs.

  8. I can’t eat chocolate any more, makes me feel sick! Far too sweet, I thought it was due to trigeminal nerve damage!

  9. I had an episode a few years ago where I lost sweet, salty, & sour – could only taste bitter. (Bittersweet chocolate was such a disappointment!) After a few weeks the umami in Chinese food seemed to break through the episode, but my neurologist insisted that the sense of taste is never affected in MS – said it had to have been caused by something else.

  10. I have not been officially diagnosed with MS; this is being evaluated. My MRI shows lesions. All of my symptoms are “head” related. I clench and grind my teeth, and keep my jaw very tense. My eyes hurt, and at times they get a bleed inside of them for no reason. I have headaches daily. Sometimes I can’t get the correct word out, it’s sounds like another language; sometimes when I listen to people I can’t understand them. I have not been able to read a book in 10 years, I my comprehension comes and goes, I can’t follow directions. I am so exhausted I fall asleep driving and sitting at my desk. And the weirdest symptom of all is I get a sick sweet taste in my mouth that comes and goes; it effects how certain foods taste. But it comes and goes. I have noticed other symptoms when I taste it; so maybe it has something to do with having an episode.

  11. I can now eat ghost peppers with little to no affect and I use to always have to order everything in mild. I can now eat extrememly sour food with little to no taste. I like my food boiling hot or it taste room temp.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.