Some prescription drugs dull your senses—and weaken your body’s ability to repair itself.
Recent Duke University research showed that enhancing the taste and smell of foods for patients in a retirement home resulted in stronger immune systems. (In a side benefit, they also got better grip strength in both hands!) In other studies, this same group of researchers found that flavor-enhanced foods increased the flow of saliva and, more importantly, salivary IgA (immunoglobulin A—the body’s natural antibiotic to fight pathogenic bacteria).
As Dr. David Williams, in his Alternatives newsletter, pointed out last year, these studies give us some extremely useful information when it comes to protecting ourselves from infections. Most of the infections we contract involve the mucus membranes—the moist outer layer of cells that covers the inner surfaces of the nose, mouth, lungs, and intestinal tract. “Good” bacteria that reside on these mucus membranes compete with the pathogens. The lymphatic system surrounding the mucus membranes produces natural antibodies like IgA. Higher levels of IgA equate to stronger immune status.
The area of the brain that processes smell and taste signals forms a direct neurological pathway to the immune system. In other words, pleasant tastes and smells strengthen your immune system. Delicious food is healing food, quite literally.
Unfortunately, many drugs can dull our smell and taste sense perception. “When you connect the dots,” Williams says, “it becomes obvious that the astronomical increase in the use of prescription and over-the-counter drugs, and changes in our food supply and dietary habits, are contributing to taste and smell perception problems. And it’s not just a problem among our elderly. It’s occurring throughout all age groups. It’s a hidden risk factor for many of the health problems that have quietly slipped beneath the radar.”
Research also shows that certain food molecules exhibit hormone-like properties that stimulate or inhibit specific actions in the body. For example, the fish oils DHA and EPA bind to a hormone receptor which sets off a chain reaction that blocks inflammation and weight gain while improving blood sugar control. Last year, researchers discovered that obese individuals were more likely to have a defect in this receptor.
Other studies show that decreased taste and smell perception can decrease the desire for healthy foods, which reduces energy production. Similarly, loss of the sense of smell can signal other conditions such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
Many medications not only disrupt the ability to taste and smell. They also reduce saliva production and increase cravings of salt and sugar. Less saliva makes us more vulnerable to infection. In addition, as we have reported, sugar causes type 2 diabetes and is now being linked to the development of Alzheimer’s, damages the heart, and reduces energy metabolism and synaptic activity in the brain—effectively making you dumber. In other words, our prescribed medications are not just risky because of the acknowledged side effects. They can make us sicker in a variety of less-understood ways.
Happily, there are natural ways to enhance your sense of taste and smell:
- Reduce your use of medication;
- Eliminate your exposure to cigarette smoke and airborne toxins;
- Supplement with zinc, copper, magnesium, alpha lipoic acid, and vitamins A, B3, and B12 (studies suggest that large numbers of people are short of some of these nutrients, especially magnesium);
- Get checked for hormonal or endocrine disorders, which can alter your taste and smell;
- Try techniques such as “swishing” your liquids, deeply sniffing each item on your plate, and eating slowly and mindfully, to appreciate and help enhance flavor;
- Practice nose breathing (don’t breathe through the mouth, especially when eating); and
- Try some natural flavor enhancers, oils, and syrups like Flavorganics or Nature’s Flavors.
We would also suggest that increasing the diversity of our diet will create more diversity in our flavors and smells. What this research tells us is that our country’s increased reliance on processed foods and an industrialized food supply instead of on heritage breeds and heirloom species is destroying our health in new, surprising, and often subtle ways.