DEAR DR. DONOHUE: For the past 14 months, I haven’t been able to taste food. I don’t know how it started. I take a number of medicines for my heart and lungs, but I get around pretty well. I drive and work a part-time job. Not being able to taste makes me not want to eat. I have lost 35 pounds. My wife is concerned, but my doctor isn’t. He hasn’t found anything wrong with me. How can I get my taste back? – M.J.

ANSWER: Taste is inextricably woven with smell. In fact, smell is of greater importance when it comes to appreciating food flavors. The search for lost taste, therefore, must take place in the nose and the mouth.

Nose problems that dull taste include allergies, nasal polyps, prior nasal infections (the common cold) and a host of other troubles. Sometimes, there is a spontaneous recovery of the smell sense. I don’t want to hold out false hope, but it can happen, even after a year. In the meantime, a thorough exam of the nose must take place to find any correctable problem.

A dry mouth and oral infections like those caused by the yeast candida are conditions that throw taste buds out of kilter.

Deficiencies of vitamin B-12 and zinc can alter taste, as can Parkinson’s disease.

High on the list of things that upset taste are medicines. It’s said that if a person takes three medicines, he or she needs two to three times the amount of salt it normally takes to produce a salt taste. Go over all your medicines with your doctor and see if some can be changed or eliminated.

To regain taste, make liberal use of flavor enhancers – vinegar, lemon, beef bouillon, vanilla, and extracts of strawberry, cherry and orange. Horseradish and peppers come in handy. Alternate mouthfuls of sweet foods and sour foods. Food texture figures into the picture. Including crunchy foods in a meal perks up food appeal.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am 17 and have not had a period since I was 15. At first I was rather delighted about the idea of not having to deal with a monthly period, but now I am worried. I feel fine, and my doctor said I was physically fit at my last physical, which was quite recent. Am I risking anything by not having periods? – S.K.

ANSWER: You might be risking the health of your bones by not having periods. To secure bone health, a young woman must have a sufficient amount of estrogen. You are at a stage in life when bones are growing maximally, and to shortchange them now puts you at risk of osteoporosis later.

There is a large catalog of causes for not having periods. It could be that the ovaries are not producing estrogen. Polycystic ovary disease, a common malady, is a common cause of women losing their normal menstrual cycles due to a falloff in estrogen production. Problems arising in the hypothalamus or pituitary gland can also lead to cessation of periods. Both brain structures are involved in female hormone production. For example, a prolactinoma – a tumor of the pituitary gland – can cause periods to stop.

Diabetes interferes with monthly cycles. So do thyroid gland disorders. Weight loss frequently disturbs menstruation.

Did you tell your doctor about your problem? If you didn’t, go back and do so. A few tests are needed to determine if you’re making hormones essential to menstrual health.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: My bilirubin was checked twice and was high. All other tests were normal. My doctor suspects Gilbert’s disease. Would you enlighten me on this topic? Should I avoid certain foods? – M.P.

ANSWER: Gilbert’s shouldn’t be called a disease or a syndrome. It’s a quirk in the way the liver processes bilirubin, a pigment that comes from worn-out red blood cells. From time to time the liver doesn’t eliminate bilirubin completely.

The skin yellows. In people with dark complexions, the yellow is noticed in the whites of the eyes. The color reverts to normal quickly. You don’t need to do a thing about this.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.

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