Zinc is an essential mineral needed by the body for growth, immune system function and catalyzing certain enzymes. Insufficient dietary zinc or medical conditions that inhibit zinc absorption can result in a deficiency, with potential health consequences that include taste disturbances such as hypogeusia, or blunted sense of taste, and dysgeusia, or distorted sense of taste. You should not take zinc supplements without consulting your doctor, however.
Low zinc levels have been associated with both dysgeusia and hypogeusia, according to research published in "The Western Journal of Medicine" in 1988. Also, several symptoms of zinc deficiency -- such as anorexia, impaired sense of smell and reduced mental function -- commonly accompany dysgeusia. But several conditions that can cause dysgeusia also can cause zinc deficiency. Some of these include alcoholism, kidney failure, malabsorption disorders and taking certain medications such as penicillamine.
Although zinc is important for taste bud health, the exact mechanisms by which zinc deficiency affects taste buds are not entirely understood. According to "The Western Journal of Medicine," it is known that zinc is required to make alkaline phosphatase, the most abundant enzyme in taste bud membranes, and zinc is also a component of a salivary protein needed for the development and maintenance of taste buds. An animal study published by "Journal of Nutrition" in 2001 speculated that zinc deficiency may decrease taste sensitivity by reducing important salivary enzymes, and, long term, zinc deficiency may distort taste by affecting the central nervous system.
Zinc replacement therapy using supplements might be effective for treating hypogeusia, according to MedlinePlus. But because taking too much zinc daily can cause serious health problems, you should not attempt to self-treat taste impairments with zinc supplements. Taking these supplements can cause taste distortions themselves -- in particular, some people experience a metallic taste after taking zinc.
Taste impairments may result from a number of conditions other than zinc deficiency. These include aging, Bell's palsy, the common cold, flu, nasal infections, vitamin B-12 deficiency, salivary gland infections, smoking and taking certain medications. If you have taste problems that do not go away or if you suspect you have zinc deficiency, make an appointment with your doctor. Other symptoms that may indicate zinc deficiency include hair loss, loss of appetite, irritability, nausea, diarrhea and slow wound healing.