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Taste and Hormone Therapy

PI: Susan Coldwell, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Dental Public Health Sciences, School of Dentistry, University of Washington

Taste perception and taste sensitivity have been shown to decline slightly with age. In particular, age-related deficits in salt and bitter taste perception have been observed in a number of studies. Little work has been done examining the physiological mechanisms underlying these declines in taste perception. The purpose of these studies was to determine whether taste sensitivity for bitterness (quinine sulfate) is enhanced by hormone replacement therapy for menopause and whether taste sensitivity for saltiness (sodium chloride) is enhanced by hormone replacement therapy for menopause. Three groups of subjects were assessed, all post-menopausal women who participated in the Coldwell and Moe study on sweet taste perception. One group was undergoing both progesterone and estrogen replacement therapy (Group PERT, n = 12). A second group was undergoing estrogen replacement therapy alone (Group ERT, n = 13). A third group was undergoing no replacement therapy (NERT, n = 15). Subjects underwent psychophysical testing to assess detection thresholds for quinine sulfate and sodium chloride using a two-cup, forced-choice, up-down staircase method with a two down one up rule. Sodium chloride threshold did not significantly differ between groups PERT and NERT (p = 0.24). However, there was a trend in the expected direction. Group PERT did have lower detection threshold for sodium chloride than did group ERT [pre-planned contrast, F(1, 37) = 5.18, p < 0.03]. No differences in sodium chloride thresholds were observed between groups ERT and NERT. Quinine thresholds did not differ between groups. These preliminary findings, combined with the observations of Coldwell and Moe on sweet taste perception, suggest that progesterone replacement may prevent loss of taste perception for certain compounds following menopause. Further work is needed to confirm these findings.

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