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Altered taste and the menopause

Why you can have a bitter taste in your mouth and what to do about it

While many perimenopause and menopause symptoms can leave a “bad taste in the mouth”, one does so quite literally. Many women notice an alteration in their sense of taste, reporting a bitter or metallic taste in their mouth.

Why does the menopause disturb your sense of taste?

The perimenopause and menopause can affect both your sense of taste and your sense of smell, which are closely linked. This is because fluctuating oestrogen levels can affect the pathways in your brain that control your sense of smell and taste.

You might find that the changes only last for a few days, or longer. Dentist Dr Shabnam Zai says: ‘Saliva is also essential – it acts as a solvent and carries food to the taste receptors on your tongue. With increased dry mouth or reduced saliva flow, taste can also be affected.’

In a survey of over 1,000 women who had experienced menopausal symptoms, one in three had experienced a dry mouth [1]. Just as a lack of oestrogen can lead to dry skin, this loss of moisture can also affect the mouth.

Saliva plays an important role in taste, acting as a translator by breaking down the food you eat into chemical components of taste, which are then processed by the taste buds. Saliva has modulating effects on sour, salt, and the monosodium-glutamate-induced savoury or umami taste [2] and studies have shown that postmenopausal women have a decreased perception of sugar, which can help explain why we prefer sugary foods during the menopause [3].

RELATED: dry mouth and the menopause

What else causes it?

Your sense of taste and smell can naturally diminish or alter with age as the number of taste buds reduce after the age of 60 and your sensitivity to taste declines. It’s worth noting that women don’t always notice their sense of taste has altered – only 35% recognised it in one study [4] – yet it might be something to consider if you find you are drawn towards more unhealthy foods.

Some medications can affect your sense of taste or make your mouth dry – for example, antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, antihistamines, diabetes medications, antidepressants. Cancer treatment – radiotherapy or chemotherapy – can also cause dry mouth.

Another issue can be a lack of zinc as this mineral helps to maintain the function of taste buds, and a lack of it has been reported to cause a metallic taste in the mouth.

Finally, if you are experiencing dental issues, for example gum problems or cavities, which can be more common during the perimenopause and menopause, these can lead to a metallic taste in your mouth.

RELATED: receding gums and the menopause

Can I treat it?

‘In most cases the altered taste sensation is self-limiting and resolves by itself,’ says Dr Shabnam. ‘In the meantime, try not to worry, eat foods that taste good and avoid those that don’t until it resolves. Practise good oral hygiene by brushing your teeth twice a day, flossing daily and visiting your dentist twice a year.’

Drink lots of water to stop your mouth getting dry or you can suck on an ice cube to keep your mouth moist. Chew sugar-free mints or gum to stimulate your salivary glands to produce more saliva.

If your altered sense of taste is caused by dry mouth, managing that can improve your symptoms. Also smoking can make it worse, so reducing how much you smoke can help.


Dentist Dr Shabnam Zai is clinical director at West House Dental, Follow her on Instagram @drshabnamzai


1. Delta Dental’s 2023 Senior Oral Health and Menopause Report: Breaking the Stigma

2. Spielman AI. (1990), ‘Interaction of saliva and taste’, J Dent Res, Mar;69(3):838-43. doi: 10.1177/00220345900690030101

3-4. Delilbasi C., Cehiz T., Akal U.K., Yilmaz T. (2003), ‘Evaluation of Gustatory Function in Postmenopausal Women’, Br. Dent. J. 194:447–449. doi: 10.1038/sj.bdj.4810030

Altered taste and the menopause

Written by
Dr Shabnam Zai

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