TASTE & AGEINGAugust 11th, 2021 | Water and Wellbeing
Challenges of staying healthy and hydrated as you age.
Getting older we experience many changes to our physical appearance and body, greying hair, weakening eyesight and hearing loss, some people seeing more dramatic changes than others. These aging ailments can to some extent be disguise or supported, using hair dye, wearing glasses and hearing aids but something that isn’t discussed or mentioned; how do we combat our 10,000 taste buds diminishing when we reach 60?There is a connection between our wellbeing and physical health which is directly related to our loss of taste, and further impacted with the loss of our sense of smell and the reduction in salivary production over the age of 70
TASTE BUDS CHANGE
The change in our sense of taste is a gradual process, in fact our taste buds are changing all the time. As a child there may have been foods that you could not stand, for me it was the bitter taste of Horseradish, English Mustard and Olives. This is because children’s taste receptors are more intense than adults, which could explain my rejection of horseradish, it was just too overpowering. It also explains why parents battle with their children to eat some vegetables as they find them too ‘revolting’ and it takes time or concealment to encourage them to eat them, or for their taste buds to develop. Temperature also impacts on our taste buds and can intensify the bitterness if you are drinking room temperature or lukewarm water – which most babies and children do. Read more here.
Our 10,000 taste buds are there to test our food and differentiate between nutritious and potentially harmful foods. Labelling and preprepared foods means we are not foraging for food as our ancestors used to, but our taste buds are still essential. As food dissolves in our saliva, it activates receptors, that can then distinguish between sweet, salty, sour, bitter and savoury, this is not done alone, as taste and smell work in conjunction with one another. The aromas influence how sweet something is and can trigger memories of taste before you have sampled it. Examples are the smell of popcorn triggering memories of going to the cinema (for me), or cinnamon giving a sense of Christmas time.
As our sense of taste weakens, it is impacted further by the fact that our sense of smell gradually diminishes over the age of 70. Impacting our ability to smell dishes, due to the lining of our nose becoming thinner and drier and the nerve endings in the nose deteriorating. This change is slight however, and typically only affects subtle smells. With these changes’ foods can taste bitter, and foods with subtle smells may taste bland. The ability to therefore distinguish taste impacts more for sweet and salty foods than bitter and sour as our taste buds reduce.
A further symptom of aging is that you produce less saliva, and your mouth can feel dry, termed ‘dry mouth’ or ‘cotton mouth’, the correct medical term is xerostomia. Saliva is needed to break down food, mineral-rich saliva does many things, including limiting the growth of bacteria and viruses that cause bad breath, tooth decay and gum disease. Not having enough can cause dentures to become loose, mouth sores developing and lips to crack. In severe cases, chewing and swallowing can become nearly impossible, the only way to imagine it is to picture eating bread with peanut butter and sand. Eating becomes more of a chore than enjoyment.
These changes can impact your wellbeing and appetite, as food does not smell or taste as it did, and you are finding it more difficult to eat, you may not be eating or drinking as much as you need to.
Flavour is a mixture of sensory information – taste, smell and the tactile sensation that is known as “mouthfeel” – when we say we are experience water as “light” or “heavy” in the mouth. Where as 10,000 taste buds determine how we sense taste. With receptors on our tongue allowing us to distinguish between tastes – sweet, savoury, bitter, salty and sour.
Some ideas to support the loss of appetite and maintaining your diet include: –
- Adding spices and seasonings to food to enhance the flavour and increase the intensity of the taste.
- Always check the expiration dates on food, with the loss of smell you could mistakenly eat food past their best.
- Taking frequent sips of water whilst eating can help with dry mouth.
- Drinking waters higher in minerals that can limit the bacteria growth and viruses in your mouth
KEEP IT EXCITING
If you were apprehensive already about getting older and going grey, then the thought that your favourite food might not taste the same probably is not a positive one. It is however important to remember our taste bud diminishing is a gradual process and you have already been going through this process since birth. You’ve favourite food probably isn’t still blended carrots, rice and chicken, well maybe it is, or could be again, who knows, but as humans adapt and experimenting with tastes, temperature and consistency can bring enjoyment back to your diet. Add those spices and keep drinking plenty of mineralised water and maintain a healthy balanced diet.
It is important to note that colds, bacterial sinusitis, inflammation of the salivary glands, throat infections and even coronavirus can impact your sense of taste and smell and you should always seek medical advice if this is noticeable and happens suddenly along with other symptoms.