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When taste and smell get lost

Gerald W. Deas M.D., MPH | 7/6/2017, 9:34 a.m.

Mrs. S. was a 79-year-old mother of four children, 20 grandchildren and seven great grandchildren. She had just returned to her home after a two-week hospital stay because of congestive heart failure. I was called there by her family because of a great weight loss and an overall poor nutritional state.

The patient had lost a considerable amount of weight before and during hospitalization. Upon questioning her, I learned she was unable to taste or smell her food. She had voiced this concern even during her hospitalization, although no one had paid her any attention.

The loss of taste and smell can be attributed to many neurological and physiological conditions. However, a very common cause of this annoying symptom is a deficiency of zinc. Although zinc is required in trace amounts, it is essential for life and the normal functioning of the body. It is used in the production of sex and growth hormones and is needed to activate multiple chemical reactions throughout the body.

Zinc has been shown to keep the oxygen-carrying red blood cells healthy, as well as to stimulate the production of white blood cells that protect the body from invading germs.

Preventing osteoporosis (demineralization of bones), is dependent not only on a sufficient amount of calcium and vitamin D but also on an adequate supply of zinc. Zinc enhances the absorption of calcium from the intestines. During pregnancy, this precious trace element is necessary to ensure strong bones and normal growth of the fetus.

Because drinking alcohol causes a zinc deficiency, women during pregnancy should be warned regarding the use of alcohol. Just remember, one can of beer is equal to one shot of booze. Even postpartum blues have been associated with zinc deficiency. Severe menstrual cramps are often alleviated with the combination of zinc and vitamin B-6.

The average adult needs approximately 25 mg of zinc daily. However, because only one-third is absorbed, a person might have to take three times this amount. Excellent sources of this mineral are pumpkin seeds, organ meats, eggs, seafood, mushrooms, soy beans and nuts.

After a complete nutritional history was taken, I placed the patient on zinc and multiple vitamins along with vitamin B-6. Within four weeks, she could smell, taste and do the electric slide at her birthday party!