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When taste and smell get lost

House Calls

Gerald W. Deas M.D., MPH | 8/28/2014, 10:27 a.m.
Mrs. S. is a 79-year-old mother of four children, 20 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. She had just returned to her ...
Dr. Gerald Deas

Mrs. S. is 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 by her family because of her great weight loss and an overall poor nutritional state.

The patient had lost a considerable amount of weight before and during hospitalization. Upon being questioned, she related that she was unable to taste or smell her food. She had voiced this concern during her hospitalization, but 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 only 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 the ability to stimulate the production of white blood cells, which 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, pregnant women should be warned about the use of alcohol. 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 B6.

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

After a complete nutritional history was taken, I placed the patient on zinc and multivitamins, along with vitamin B6. Within four weeks, she could smell, taste and do the electric slide at her birthday party!