Combating Taste Changes During Chemo

9 months 2 weeks ago

One of the most common complaints received from those undergoing chemotherapy is that food is no longer appetizing or that it just does not taste the same. The technical term for this sudden shift in taste is called dysgeusia, or the alteration of taste, and research shows that about 46-77% of chemo patients are affected by this condition [1].  Though there is no proven cause of dysgeusia, it is thought to occur when medications are injected into the bloodstream and are secreted into the saliva, transferring the bitter flavor of medication to the taste buds [2]. Dysgeusia can cause:

  • Hypersensitivity to food flavors such as extreme sweet, bitter, or salty tastes
  • Bland or “cardboard” tasting food
  • All foods may taste the same
  • Metallic or chemical taste, especially after eating meat or other high protein sources [3]

These symptoms may last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks and can cause loss of appetite or an aversion to food which can lead to unhealthy weight loss. Currently, there is no treatment for this condition, but there are ways to manage the symptoms [3].

Tips for Managing Altered Taste

Maintaining healthy eating habits can be difficult with dysgeusia, but the following tips are popular ways to help with symptom management:

  • Try eating different protein sources other than red meat such as peanut butter, fish, or dairy products
  • Eat minty hard candies or sugar-free gum
  • Avoid eating 1-2 hours before chemo and about 3 hours after
  • Use a mouth rinse with salt and baking soda before eating
  • Switch to plastic eating utensils [3]

A Survivor’s Experience with Dysgeusia

Joretta was diagnosed with uterine cancer in 2014. Throughout her battle with cancer, she experienced six chemo treatments, and with each round she noticed a reoccurring change in the flavor of her food.

“After my treatment, I would still feel pretty good. I didn’t feel weak or nauseous at all. Then, exactly three days later, I would start to feel weak, and I began noticing a metallic taste in my mouth whenever I brushed my teeth, swallowed, or tried to eat and nothing tasted good to me. It wasn’t there 24/7, and it wasn’t an overpowering taste, but it  was present enough that I would be able to notice it easily. Then, after about three to four days, the metallic taste would be gone.

 “I wasn’t really hungry often, but I tried to get a little [food] down each day. The only foods that I could eat with the metallic taste were eggs, toast, a baked potato, salads, and oranges. I didn’t eat much, but I would usually have two or three scrambled eggs for breakfast and then maybe two or three navel oranges or a baked potato for dinner.”

Though each cancer experience differs, it is possible to find foods and tricks to cope with dysgeusia.

For more tips to manage this symptom, visit My PearlPoint.

 

[1] https://www.oncolink.org/healthcare-professionals/o-pro-portal/articles-...

[2] http://www.npr.org/2014/04/07/295800503/chemo-can-make-food-taste-like-m...

[3] http://www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/side-effects/taste-changes

 

Leah Davenport, Senior Student in the Lipscomb University Didactic Program in Dietetics

Lipscomb University Senior Blogs