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Taste and MS

Taste and MS

How often when eating do you think… ‘this doesn’t taste right’ or ‘where’s the flavor in this dish?’ It might well not be the food or drink you are sampling but your own taste buds, especially if you have multiple sclerosis. In the study Taste dysfunction in MS, by Richard Doty and co-investigators from the University of Pennsylvania, they come to the conclusion that people with multiple sclerosis might have their tastes altered by lesions in the brain or some other as yet unidentified process.

In their study they used people with MS and matched controls, which means the controls were of the same sex, age, and other identifying traits. The study cohort of 73 people with MS and 73 matched controls was large enough to mean the outcomes could be labeled significant. Both groups were tested on the basis tastes – sweet, sour, bitter and salty. The group of people with MS had a significant difference in which tastes they were able to distinguish, with a marked difference in the salty and sweet categories.

As noted in the abstract for Taste dysfunction in MS –

“Taste identification scores were significantly lower in the MS patients for sucrose (p = 0.0002), citric acid (p = 0.0001), caffeine (p = 0.0372) and NaCl (p = 0.0004) and were present in both anterior and posterior tongue regions. The percent of MS patients with identification scores falling below the 5th percentile of controls was 15.07 % for caffeine, 21.9 % for citric acid, 24.66 % for sucrose, and 31.50 % for NaCl.”1

A point they found within their work that I find of interest is women in both the subject and control groups outperformed the men – meaning women overall have better tuned taste buds. This doesn’t surprise me because I have watched for years as my husband added salt, hot sauce, and ketchup for seasoning to so many dishes which are perfectly fine to my tastes. The flip side is I have a keen appreciation for the nuance of the flavor of sweets, particularly chocolates,  which don’t thrill his taste buds at all; I eat little of foods that are salty, which seem to be one of his particular favorites.

Why might this be an important study? Our senses, particularly smell and taste, are critical to our appetite. If something is not appealing, we often choose not to eat it. That’s no big problem if it is simply a few food items such as broccoli or salmon, both of which do not taste good to me and I skip those when offered; there are plenty of other foods such as steak and chocolate which do tickle my taste buds and appetite is not one of my problems. But for some people with MS, there is a concern about their nutrition and lack of desire to eat, which might be connected in some way to the food or beverages just not tasting good. This problem can also be a serious factor in affecting our quality of life. The authors mention that this problem will not affect a large number of people with MS but it is worth taking note of by neurologists who are caring for people who struggle with caloric intake and maintaining weight.

Although there is no ‘cure’ for faulty wired taste buds, knowing this problem could be caused by food and drink not tasting right thanks to multiple sclerosis, might allow for adjustments to the diet of people with MS to meet their nutritional needs.

Wishing you well,


This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. Doty RL, Tourbier IA, Pham DL, Cuzzocreo JL, Udupa JK, Karacali B, Beals E, Fabius L, Leon-Sarmiento FE, Moonis G, et al. Taste dysfunction in multiple sclerosis. J Neurol. 2016 Jan 25. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 26810729. Retrieved February 29, 2016.


  • Jan
    4 years ago

    My taste has moved along to aggressive flavor. Dark Roast coffee. Stout Beer.

  • Matt Allen G
    4 years ago

    I have lost most my taste on many occasions, luckily it came back because it wasn’t always just “tasteless”, sometimes things tasted really gross, like my taste buds were just randomly firing electrical signals!

  • Diana M.
    4 years ago

    Thanks for the informative post, Laura. Nancytngirl, I’m sorry you’ve gone through such a hard time with your taste difficulties.

    I wonder if anyone out there has had the same experience I’ve had with distorted taste. Over five years ago, during a stressful time, I began to have double vision and not be able to taste food. About half a dozen other symptoms soon accumulated, and before too long I was diagnosed with MS.

    There was a harsh taste in my mouth all the time (I guess you’d call it a gustatory hallucination), and yet I couldn’t taste the full flavor of actual food.

    I could smell everything just fine but could only taste the basic sweet, salty, sour, or bitter of a food. Coffee in the pot smelled delicious, but when I drank it, it tasted like acidic water. It was not much fun to eat for a while. Toothpaste was weird, too.

    Clearly my tastebuds worked. And clearly my sense of smell worked. But something kept my brain from combining the taste and smell signals that would’ve allowed me to enjoy the richness of coffee.

    That first big flare is the worst off I’ve ever been with my MS. All the other problems associated with that initial horrible flare remitted after a month or so, but the harsh taste has remained pretty constant for five years.

    It’s mild to negligible right now. When I swallow I can just notice it. I wonder why swallowing seems to trigger the sensation?

    When I described my experience to my neurologist, he didn’t believe me at first.

    Maybe after five years I’ve largely gotten used to the icky taste. There have been isolated days when I became aware that it didn’t seem to be there, but then it would return noticeably. Most of the time it isn’t awful; I just think I need to brush my teeth when I already have.

    There have been bad times when the taste in my mouth was like aspirin, or like soap, or like some kind of metal. It’s occasionally been so annoying it almost seemed like a kind of pain.

    I can taste most things well enough although I think I’m missing some of the subtleties. I do want to put more seasoning on things than my husband likes.

    Has anyone else experienced the things I’ve described?

  • nancytngirl
    4 years ago

    I’ll take this one step further.. When I was a child learning food, learning taste, I can remember being punished time and again for not eating my food, or my complete unwillingness to try new foods, going to restaurants etc. I did not taste food, or at best very limited in ability. It was a nightmarish hell as it destroyed our family meal times. I learned food by TEXTURE instead of TASTE. Altho now I can as an adult taste most everything (I think? lol) I still prefer foods that crunch, or are soft or whatever texture I learned as a child. It was not possible to explain “Hey this taste weird.. or like vomit.” no joke there, some normal things tasted that bad that my family members raved over asking for second helpings as I would sit there bewildered how they could possibly eat that whatever it was. In my teens taste came back to me. I eat a much larger variety of food now. Now as for the feeling of not being hungry, yes I’ve had times for weeks or months throughout my life I have little to zero hunger. Now this I learned is the signals telling my brain my stomach is empty never get to my brain. So I’ve had it both ways.

  • itasara
    4 years ago

    After a bad cold almost 3 years ago, I couldn’t smell or taste anything. I figured it was a virus that injured my olfactory nerve. My tongue tastes of sweet, salty, etc. were in tack. After all this time, I have limited smell, at least that is something, and sometimes I think I taste the actual taste of what I’m eating, but I have no after taste and once the food is in my mouth for a second or so, I don’t taste it any more. Then makes me wonder how much was due to a cold and how much is due to MS. I belong to a group on line for smell/taste issue.. it is a very interesting group. I’ve learned there are a few reasons for a lack of smell or taste and some people are born with no taste or smell! Some people have tried different solutions. I spoke to a couple ENT docs with no help whatsoever. It is bad enough to know I have MS but taking away some of the joy of eating is pretty cruel if you ask me. I’m glad I have a little smell back and I’m hoping in time it will improve, but the lack of communication between my tongue and nose and my brain makes me thing it is more neurological from MS than from the cold I had.

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