In this article:
The thyroid gland is a small organ situated at the nape of your neck. Despite its small size, the thyroid plays a significant role in how your body functions. From regulating your heart rate and metabolism to influencing your fertility and blood pressure, optimal thyroid functioning is vital for your overall health and wellbeing. Indeed, a poorly functioning thyroid can cause a slew of symptoms, many of which may seem bizarre, such as a decrease in your ability to taste and smell.
One of the most common thyroid conditions is hypothyroidism, where your thyroid cannot produce a sufficient amount of thyroid hormone. An underactive thyroid can happen for various reasons.
The most common cause of hypothyroidism is an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, where chronic inflammation makes the thyroid unable to produce thyroid hormones. Sometimes, hypothyroidism may be due to a problem between the thyroid and the pituitary, a tiny gland in your brain that regulates hormones in your body.
When our bodies do not have enough thyroid hormone, it can lead to a general slowing of our body systems.
Common symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- Weight gain
- Slower heart rate
- Irregular menstrual periods
- Dry skin and thinning hair
Your ability to taste your food may change if you have a thyroid condition. However, this is a symptom we often don’t connect with the thyroid. People frequently don’t bring it up to their health providers because it may seem obscure, or you think it may resolve with time. Sometimes, it is even hard to recognize when one of our senses is off.
When food doesn’t taste right, it can alter your appetite and change your eating habits. Often, people report that food tastes more acidic or bitter. Sometimes, people experience pain on their tongue or other unusual symptoms when eating, like changes in food textures and temperature. There may be physical changes to the tongue and taste buds as well.
The fact is we don’t know exactly why an altered sense of taste can be a symptom of a thyroid issue. And, what studies we do have on the taste and thyroid are several decades old. But, one more recent study of hypothyroidism shows evidence that low thyroid hormone can lead to burning mouth syndrome and an altered taste sensation.
Some people also attribute changes in taste to the medication used to treat thyroid conditions, such as thyroid hormone replacement medications. For example, some reports indicate that it is not uncommon to have a metallic taste in your mouth if you take levothyroxine. However, one study found that altered taste improved significantly in the study group after being on levothyroxine for three months.
Changes in your ability to taste can vary from person to person, even in people with the same thyroid condition.
Our taste and smell sensations have their own receptor organs, but they are closely connected. Think about when you have a head cold and cannot smell. Likely, your ability to taste your food is also reduced until your nasal congestion resolves.
Taste comes from both our taste buds and olfactory glands detecting chemicals in foods. The messages sent to your brain about both taste and smell travel along similar signaling pathways. Your brain uses messages from both your tastebuds and your olfactory glands to determine your perceptions of smell and taste.
Therefore, people who struggle with the loss of smell often also have difficulty tasting their food and vice versa.
Living with an altered sense of taste and smell is doable, but it is not desirable, and it is not something you have to live with for the rest of your life.
Check your thyroid hormone levels
If you suspect your thyroid may be the cause, start by getting your thyroid checked. To do this, you can order a complete thyroid blood panel to see if your thyroid hormones are standard, high, or low. If you have a condition like hypothyroidism, your doctor will likely prescribe a thyroid hormone replacement medication to help boost thyroid hormone levels in your body.
Verify your thyroid medication is correct
If you are on medication and suspect it has altered your sense of taste or smell, consider verifying with your thyroid doctor that you are on the correct dose first and then ask your doctor if they think the medication is the culprit.
Rule out other causes of changes in taste and smell
Of course, changes in taste and smell may relate to numerous other factors, and the thyroid is not always a glaringly obvious cause. Common causes of changes in taste may be due to:
- Head cold or sinus infection
- Ear infection
- Gum disease
- Other medications like antidepressants, blood pressure medications
- Wearing dentures
A visit to an Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor and your dentist may help rule out some of the more common causes of losing these particular senses.