Why do we lose our sense of taste as we age ?
Our ability to taste is due to tiny molecules released by chewing, drinking, or digesting food. This stimulates special sensory cells in the mouth and throat known as taste or gustatory cells.
These cells are clustered within the taste buds of the tongue and roof of the mouth and along the lining of the throat. Many of the small bumps on the tip of your tongue contain them and at birth, we have about 10,000 but after age 50, we may start to lose them. The average adult has 2,000–8,000 and they are actually tiny nerve endings that allow us to detect tastes, including;
- Sour and
- Umami ( a specific taste in meat)
These nerve endings transmit messages directly to the brain by chemical reactions. Another major component to taste is smell. With smell alone you can often tell the difference in foods or drinks, without it it can be difficult to distinguish between different tastes. When we have a cold or stuffy nose food doesn’t taste normal.
As we age we lose taste buds and the sense of taste is lessened. They can be dulled or even damaged if they are irritated by extreme heat or cold, infections, a dry mouth, smoking, spicy foods, extremely sour foods, and some medications. Some people are sensitive to a particular food, such as walnuts, which may cause soreness in their mouth.
When the taste cells are stimulated, they send messages through three specialized taste nerves to the brain, where specific tastes are identified. Each cell expresses a receptor, which responds to one of at least five basic qualities: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and savoury. A common misconception is that taste cells that respond to different tastes are found in separate regions of the tongue. In humans, the different types of taste cells are scattered throughout the tongue.
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