What to Do When Everything Tastes Like Metal During Chemotherapy

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Question: What Can I Do When Everything Tastes Like Metal During Chemotherapy?

I've been on chemotherapy for four weeks now and cannot tolerate the taste of my favorite foods. I have lost four pounds and now I'm worried. How do I eat when everything tastes bad and metallic?

How to Deal with Metallic Taste During Chemotherapy

Answer: Chemotherapy has many different side effects, most of which are based upon the fact that the drugs kill healthy and cancerous cells.

Hair and weight loss, exhaustion, nausea and even that metal taste are well-anticipated side effects of your chemotherapy drugs. Most notably, some of the most common drugs used to treat colon cancer – such as 5 FU – have the most taste-oriented side effects.

There are many different theories behind the perceived changes in taste, also known as dysgeusia. One common theory remains that tiny amounts of your chemotherapy drugs are excreted in your saliva, which comes in direct contact with the foods you eat.

Your concern about weight loss is a valid one. Many people fear that when they lose their appetite, start eating less (and therefore potentially lose weight) and grow weaker this may mean that they are not tolerating the chemotherapy. Although this concern is common, it does not signify that you are not tolerating chemo. If anything, it is a normal response to certain chemotherapy drugs.

Learning how to reduce the metallic taste and enjoy eating again might help you maintain your weight.

Stop Using Metal

The first, and perhaps most obvious thing to do is to stop using metallic cooking and eating implements. Many people use plastic forks and spoons and avoid cooking with aluminum foil or stainless steel pots.

The metallic taste may be worse in the hours immediately following your chemotherapy treatment, but some people have reported having this taste disturbance for months following their treatment.

Stick to Cool or Frozen Snacks

Although no one wants to live off of frozen foods (literally, eaten while they are cold) you might find that the cooler the food is, the less it stimulates that metallic taste. Try eating popsicles, frozen fruit and ice cream to see if you can escape the bad taste.

Be a Picky Protein Eater

The taste changes you might experience will not always be the same as other people – even other people on the exact same chemotherapy regimen! Some people cannot tolerate the taste of red meat or chocolate, whereas for other people it is poultry that tastes like copper, sawdust or paper. If you find a protein, such as chicken, fish, eggs, or meat, that doesn't elicit a bad taste stick with it.

Go Fresh

Canned fruits and vegetables may make things even worse. Try eating only fresh produce for a while to increase your appetite.

Better yet, cut up some fresh fruit, like cantaloupe, and put it in the freezer for a mouth-sore-relieving snack. Some people state that the acidic fruits, such as lemons and oranges, help to combat metallic taste (but be careful if you have mouth sores as the acid may burn).

Spicy or Bland?

Spicy food, bland food, whatever works -- it's totally up to you. Many people find that adding spices, such as garlic powder or oregano, can help to mask odd food tastes. However, this doesn't work for everyone and some people prefer the foods that are bland, with little to no taste. Again, you are going to have to experiment and see what works best for you – and then stick with it for the duration of your treatment.

Suck on Candies and Ice

Many people say sucking on ice chips during their chemotherapy session helps to decrease any taste-related side effects following it. These same people also state that the ice chips can help decrease the instance of mouth sores during treatment. Also, if you like candy, consider sucking on lemon drops or unsweetened mints to combat any bad taste in your mouth.

Take Care of Your Mouth

Absolutely nothing can replace excellent mouth care. It's a fact that people with cavities and poor oral care will have more difficulty with taste and even weight loss during chemotherapy. Make a dentist appointment, floss and brush daily, and report any mouth problems to your doctor as soon as you find them.

Sip on Water During Meals

Not only will it help to keep you hydrated, sipping on water can help clear your palate and rinse away bad tastes in your mouth. Some people even encourage sipping on something a little more acidic, like lemonade, to combat the metallic taste.

Sources:

American Cancer Society. (2006). American Cancer Society's Complete Guide to Colorectal Cancer. Clifton Fields, NE: American Cancer Society.

American Cancer Society. (n.d.). Nutrition for the Person with Cancer During and After Treatment. Accessed July 19, 2013.

Wasserman, A.E. (August 1, 2012). Management of Chemtotherapy-Induced Dysgeusia. Accessed via OncoLink on July 28, 2013.

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