Some prescription medicines dim sense of smell


Oysters contain the highest natural amount of the essential mineral zinc, a mineral essential for smell.

Some of the most common medications used by Americans cause zinc deficiency, including: the blood pressure medicines, called ACE inhibitors; loop diuretics used to treat cardiovascular problems; cholestyramine, which binds to bile acids and lowers cholesterol; oral contraceptives; stomach acid reducers, called H-2 receptor antagonists; and estrogen and hormone replacement therapies.* In the US, ACE inhibitors alone account for 130 million prescriptions annually. Diuretics are third most commonly used type of medicine in people over age 60.**

What are the risks of losing the sense of smell? says that anosmia isn’t dangerous in and of itself, “but an intact sense of smell is necessary to fully taste foods. So loss of smell could cause you to lose interest in eating, leading to weight loss, malnutrition or even depression. Loss of smell also prevents you from smelling things like spoiled food or smoke.”

I’ve already encountered that problem on my smellcation, evoking the “when in doubt throw it out” mantra to protect myself from accidental food poisoning.

What causes anosmia? reports a laundry of conditions and diseases that decrease sense of smell, called “anosmia” in the medical world. The causes fall into three main categories: problems with the inner lining of the nose, obstruction of the nasal passages and damage to the brain or nerves. I noticed that malnutrition and zinc deficiency are listed among last “damage to brain and nerves” causes. Zinc is an essential mineral responsible for speeding wound healing, helping the immune system, bone health and metabolizing carbohydrates. I was surprised that it could effect the sense of smell, too.

One way to counter zinc depletion brought about by take certain prescription medications is to boost consumption of foods high in the mineral. The best natural sources of zinc are shellfish, meat and poultry cooked with dry heat sources, such as grilling or roasting, according to the government website Grains and legumes are also good sources of zinc, especially when soaked before cooking. Avoiding processed foods helps to prevent additional leaching of zinc from the body. Non-processed foods highest in zinc are, according to the USDA:

  1. Eastern oysters
  2. Beans
  3. Turkey
  4. Beef
  5. Alaska king crab
  6. Lamb
  7. Chicken

* Source: “Clean: The revolutionary program to restore the body’s natural ability to heal itself” by Alejandro Junger, M.D. HarperOne 2009. pp. 270-73.

**  Source: Gu Q, Dillon CF, Burt VL. Prescription drug use continues to increase: U.S. prescription drug data for 2007-2008. NCHS data brief, no 42. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2010.

Disclaimer: Any information contained on this page or site does not in any way represent medical advice. If you have any questions about your health, please consult your doctor or a qualified health care professional.

ABOUT THIS COLUMN: This weekly feature, the Science of Smell, appears on Fridays and endeavors to answer basic questions about this ancestral sense.

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  1. When I lived in SF many years ago, a woman who was a friend of my housemate was telling us how she was involved in a study by someone at UCSF to analyze the loss of sense of smell and how it correlated to loss of desire. Someone at the university who worked with smell had slowly been finding more and more women who were otherwise sexually functional but who had no desire and who reported that their loss of desire coincided with some instance whereby they lost most of or all of their sense of smell. For the friend, her sense of smell was lost due to a botched operation on her adenoids. The researcher was trying to correlate the loss of desire with the inability to smell/perceive pheromones.

  2. I had a bad cold a few years ago and once the cold was over noticed that I still couldn’t smell anything. Apparently certain viruses can do this, although rare. I have most of my sense of smell back after a few years, but not completely, unfortunately.


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