Why Does COVID and other Viruses Cause Loss of Taste and Smell?

Naturopathic doctors remind patients to get help for the common symptoms of losing taste and smell from viruses and that it can be treated with aromatherapy and taste therapy.

Why do some people experience loss of taste and smell from COVID-19? And why does it cause brain fog? Researchers at NYU Grossman School of Medicine and Columbia University say these two common symptoms of the COVID-19 virus may be related.

Why do you lose taste with COVID?
COVID-19 may cause a loss of taste because of an inflammatory reaction in the nose (not the mouth).

Losing taste is one of the most commonly reported symptoms and often occurs before other tell-tale symptoms. Women experience it more than men and there may be a genetic component associated with the symptom, according to the journal Nature.

At the start of the pandemic, Dr. Tina Kaczor, naturopathic doctor and editor-in-chief of Natural Medicine Journal said in an interview that 30% to 70% of people with COVID-19 reported losing their sense of taste and smell. She added, … “I think what’s really interesting about this is it’s not unique to coronavirus, let’s just be clear, this can happen with the flu, so it’s not a very sensitive test. Forty percent of all cases of loss of smell that present to the doctor are due to a viral infection of some sort. So that could be some other viral infection that affects the nasal passages, so it’s not unique to Covid. So I just want to be really clear about that. People who are catching the flu out there might also lose sense of smell, but it is also, given this pandemic that we’re going through, it’s an early symptom in people who have no other symptoms. …”

However, what exactly leads to this strange and annoying symptom has been unclear until this new study in the journal Cell. While you may think it’s all about the tongue, it looks as if infection from the CARS-CoV-2 virus “indirectly dials down the action of olfactory receptors (OR)” in the nose. Loss of taste is directly linked to smell. These receptors are proteins on the surfaces of nerve cells in the nose (not the mouth), which detect the molecules associated with odors.

The scientists found that the presence of the virus near nerve cells (neurons) in olfactory tissue in the nose caused a dramatic rush of immune cells, microglia and T cells that sense and counter infection. The cells release proteins called cytokines – which change the genetic activity of olfactory nerve cells – even though the virus does not actually infect them. In normal cases (the pandemic is anything but normal), immune cell activity would stop quickly in the brain. However, with COVID-19 the immune signaling continues in just the right way to reduce the activity of genes needed for building olfactory receptors.

Certain DNA sections in the nose become less accessible to cell’s normal gene reading machinery and signaling. The loss of taste and smell are not just early signs of COVID-19, but it also shows how the virus may affect the brain and cause brain fog. Neurons in the nose are wired to sensitive areas of the brain, so when immune cells in the nasal cavity overreact, it may affect emotions and one’s ability to thinks clearly, which is a common problem with long COVID.

“The realization that the sense of smell relies on ‘fragile’ genomic interactions between chromosomes has important implications,” says co-corresponding author Benjamin tenOever, PhD, professor in the Department of Microbiology at NYU Langone Health. “If olfactory gene expression ceases every time the immune system responds in certain ways that disrupts inter-chromosomal contacts, then the lost sense of smell may act as the “canary in the coalmine,” providing any early signals that the COVID-19 virus is damaging brain tissue before other symptoms present, and suggesting new ways to treat it.”

How long can a loss of taste and smell last and should it be treated?

We’ve all had a cold, a stuffy nose or the flu that takes away our sense of smell and taste. The COVID-19 virus is unique in that you may not have a runny nose but still have a loss of smell and taste. It can last for a few weeks, but for about 12% of reported cases, normal smell and taste have not returned since being infected.

Why do you lose taste with COVID?

Doctors say patients may not get help after noticing that they have lost their sense of smell and taste, thinking it will eventually improve. Some people may regain some sense of smell or taste, but it may not be the same as before the infection. Don’t ignore this. It is important to see a doctor to rule out any other causes of the dysfunction and to restore these important sensory functions.

There are ways to restore smell through aromatherapy smell training. Smell training is a simple, no side-effect treatment for post viral loss of smell. It involves sniffing at least four different odors twice a day for several months. The smelling kits contain aromatherapy oils in just the right strength , sich as eucalyptus, lemon, rose, cinnamon, chocolate, coffee, lavender, honey, strawberry and thyme. Studies show that after six months of retraining the olfactory system people restored their sense of smell.

Taste training is another useful treatment. Trained physicians may use a combination of therapies including reducing anti-inflammation and reintroducing basic types of taste and textures through candies and/or chewing gums, as well as other savory flavors like umami with foods.

If you need help with restoring your smell and taste after a COVID-19 infection or other respiratory tract infection, contact a naturopathic doctor for support and guidance. You can find a naturopathic doctor here with INM’s Find an ND Directory.

For more information in naturopathic approaches to long COVID, see the Institute for Natural Medicine’s article, What is Long-Haul COVID? How Naturopathic Medicine Can Help Relieve the Suffering, by Michelle Simon, ND and Amy Rothenberg, ND.


This article is provided by the Institute for Natural Medicine, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, partnered with the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. INM’s mission is to transform healthcare in America by increasing both public awareness of naturopathic medicine and access to naturopathic doctors for patients. INM believes that naturopathic medicine, with its unique principles and practices, has the potential to reverse the tide of chronic illness that overwhelms existing health care systems and to empower people to achieve and maintain their optimal lifelong health. INM strives to achieve this mission through the following  initiatives:

  • Education – Reveal the unique benefits and outcomes of naturopathic medicine
  • Access – Connect patients to licensed naturopathic doctors
  • Research – Expand quality research of this complex and comprehensive system of medicine

Source:

  1. Marianna Zazhytska, Albana Kodra, Daisy A. Hoagland, Justin Frere, John F. Fullard, Hani Shayya, Natalie G. McArthur, Rasmus Moeller, Skyler Uhl, Arina D. Omer, Max E. Gottesman, Stuart Firestein, Qizhi Gong, Peter D. Canoll, James E. Goldman, Panos Roussos, Benjamin R. tenOever, Jonathan B. Overdevest, Stavros Lomvardas. Non-cell autonomous disruption of nuclear architecture as a potential cause of COVID-19 induced anosmia. Cell, 2022; DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2022.01.024
  2. Shelton, J.F., Shastri, A.J., Fletez-Brant, K. et al. The UGT2A1/UGT2A2 locus is associated with COVID-19-related loss of smell or taste. Nat Genet (2022). DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41588-021-00986-w
  3. Interview, editor-in-chief of the Natural Medicine Journal, Tina Kaczor, ND, FABNO, Covid-19 Update: Sense of Smell and Taste, Fever, and Airborne Spread, Natural Medicine Journal, April 2020.
  4. Daisy A. Hoagland, Rasmus Møller, Skyler A. Uhl, Kohei Oishi, Justin Frere, Ilona Golynker, Shu Horiuchi, Maryline Panis, Daniel Blanco-Melo, David Sachs, Knarik Arkun, Jean K. Lim, Benjamin R. tenOever. Leveraging the antiviral type I interferon system as a first line of defense against SARS-CoV-2 pathogenicity. Immunity, 2021; 54 (3): 557 DOI: 10.1016/j.immuni.2021.01.017
  5. Koyama S, Kondo K, Ueha R, Kashiwadani H, Heinbockel T. Possible Use of Phytochemicals for Recovery from COVID-19-Induced Anosmia and Ageusia. Int J Mol Sci. 2021 Aug 18;22(16):8912. DOI: 10.3390/ijms22168912. PMID: 34445619; PMCID: PMC8396277.

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Deb Hubers

Debra Hubers is a serial entrepreneur and has started seven businesses; ranging from an advanced genomics to an employer health care purchasing cooperative. Deb has over 35 years of experience in healthcare finance, education, technology, and pharmacogenomics.

Ms. Hubers has dedicated her career to measuring and improving healthcare outcomes. Her expertise is leveraging technology to deliver personalized, preventative medicine. Ms. Hubers co-founded La Vita Compounding Pharmacy in 2007. Collaborating with her business partner, physicians and strategic partners, Deb has grown La Vita to be one of the most respected and sought-after personalized medicine providers on the west coast. She is also Co-Founder of EpigeneticsRx, a leading provider of precise, personalized, prevention which positively impacts genetic expression.

Alex Keller, ND

Dr. Alex Keller, ND, AFMCP is a graduate of the University of Ottawa with an Honours Bachelor in Health Sciences and Psychology. Although originally intending to attend conventional medical school, following a three-month volunteer internship at a rural Kenyan hospital where he observed how doctors used local food to treat patients, he shifted his career goals and pursued a degree in naturopathic medicine at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto.

After one year of practicing with the esteemed Dr. Chris Pickrell, ND, RH in a community acupuncture setting, in 2015 he and his wife Dr. Jenn Keller, ND moved to rural Ottawa, Canada where they started an organic farm and retreat center. In the same year, Alex and his athletic therapist sister Jess Keller combined their practices to form Keller Active Health, an integrative physical therapy clinic.

Ever curious and passionate about the education of evidence-based natural medicine, in 2017, Dr. Keller joined a fledgling Ottawa-based health tech startup named Fullscript. He serves as its Medical Director and oversees the development of medical education content for practitioners across North America.

Prior to medicine, Alex worked in the renewable energy sector, where he developed a deep passion for sustainable agriculture and environmental stewardship. This connection between medicine and agriculture now drives Alex to focus much of his energy on bringing awareness to the quality and sourcing standards in the supplement and organic agriculture supply chains.

Today, he splits his professional time practicing as a clinician, working for Fullscript, and expanding the farming operation while chasing his kids with Jenn and occasionally running ultra-marathon trail races. He is also currently completing an Executive MBA through the Quantic School of Business & Technology with a focus on supply chain innovation.

Pamela Snider, ND

Pamela Snider, ND, is Executive and Senior Editor for the Foundations of Naturopathic Medicine Project, producing a first of its kind international textbook of Naturopathic medicine through a series of international retreats and symposia. A nationally recognized integrative health and policy leader, she is active in both national and regional integrative health initiatives. Dr. Snider serves on the Board of Directors, was founding Executive Director and co-founder of the Academic Consortium for Integrative Health (ACIH/ACCAHCa consortium of the councils of schools, accrediting agencies and certifying bodies of the licensed, traditional and emerging integrative health professions, and is currently Vice Chair and co-founder of the Integrative Health Policy Consortium (IHPC).  Dr. Snider served as a founding Board Member of the Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine from 2014-2016. Her public policy work includes completing a two year appointment to the DHHS Center For Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) Medicare Coverage Advisory Committee (MCAC); serving as a Steering Committee Member for  the HRSA funded American College of Preventive Medicine NCCIM Integrative Medicine in Preventive Medicine Residency program, co-directing in USPHS Region X the Building Bridges Between Provider Communities Group, an exploration of interdisciplinary collaboration and common ground between public health and CAM; serving for 22 years on Washington State’s Health Professional Loan Repayment and Scholarship Program Advisory Committee (HPLRSP); providing technical assistance to and developing key language for the enabling legislation for NIH Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCIH/NCCAM); and staffing Joseph Pizzorno ND during his appointment as Commissioner on the White House Commission on CAM Policy.

From 1994-2003, Dr. Snider served as Associate Dean for Public and Professional Affairs and Naturopathic Medicine at Bastyr University, dividing her work between academic and public affairs activities, including chairing the Naturopathic Medicine Program Curriculum Review Committee.  Dr. Snider has been teaching, publishing and lecturing widely on Naturopathic philosophy, theory integrative health, public policy, and other topics for over 30 years. Currently, an Associate Professor at National University of Natural Medicine (NUNM) in Portland, OR, Dr. Snider also continues at Bastyr University in her 22nd year as a faculty member teaching naturopathic medicine history, clinical theory, and global context. Among her Naturopathic medicine professional roles she serves on the Institute for Natural Medicine’s Leadership Council.  In 1989, she co-led the naturopathic profession with Dr. Jared Zeff, in developing a unifying definition of naturopathic medicine and its principles of practice adopted unanimously by the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) House of Delegates. She was a co-investigator in the 2004 NIH NCCAM research study, the North American Naturopathic Medical Research Agenda and CAM Advisor in NIHCCAM’s Financing Integrative Health Care (University of Washington).  Her areas of experience include healthcare education; naturopathic and interdisciplinary clinical theory, curriculum development; clinical practice; government and legislative affairs, public policy, interdisciplinary collaboration, and community organizing.  Dr. Snider has received the Ontario Naturopathic Physician of the Year Award, the Physician of the Year Award from the AANP, the President’s Outstanding Vision Award and Distinguished Alumnus Award at Bastyr University, AANP’s President’s Award, an honorary Doctorate of Naturopathic Philosophy from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM), the William A Mitchell Vis Award from the AANP and The Gathering – NMSA’s Beacon Award. She received her ND degree in 1982 from Bastyr University of Natural Health Sciences and is a licensed naturopathic physician in the State of Washington. She lives with her husband and children at their homestead in North Bend Washington, in the beautiful mountain to sea landscape and home of The Revival – Restore the Vis, an annual student-led community gathering.

Susan Haeger

Susan Haeger is Founder/Principal of Transformative Health Solutions Inc. She has applied her twenty plus years in executive leadership to help shape and drive adoption of progressive health policy for whole person healthcare. She was a section contributor to the 2021 INM/AANP published professional white paper, Naturopathic Physicians as Whole Health Specialists: The Future is Whole Person Health Care that provides supporting evidence for the profession’s significant and unique contributions to preventive, whole person care and models of integrative clinical practice.

Bruce Barlean

Bruce Barlean is an owner and founder of Barlean’s, a global dietary supplement manufacturer located in the Pacific Northwest in Ferndale, WA. Bruce has been actively involved in the Natural Products industry since 1989 and is passionate about making a difference in the world and positively impacting the lives of others.

Bruce believes that people can make a difference in the world through ordinary purchases. He is committed to improving the quality of life for every person on the planet by making the best products and by using the profits to support outreach programs. Bruce summarizes it simply, “We make good stuff to do good stuff”.

In the late 1980’s Bruce became passionate about how health could be dramatically improved with Flax Oil Supplementation. Bruce along with his entrepreneurial parents saw the potential to improve the lives of many people and in 1989 they began selling Flax Oil under the Barlean’s name. From 1989 – 2000 the business grew an average of 40% year over year. While most companies saw a decline in business in the 2001 recession, Barlean’s continued to grow and soon became America’s #1 selling flaxseed oil and continues to be to the present. The brand has since expanded to include additional oils, green food concentrates and other premium supplements. Bruce continues to drive innovation and over the years his products and company have won countless awards including: Eight consecutive Vity Awards for #1 EFA, Six consecutive Vity Awards for #1 Greens Food Supplement, Natural Choice Award for Best Specialty Supplement, Best Product of the Year, Best New Product, Gold Medal Taster’s Choice Award, Gold Medal American Masters of Taste Award, #1 Health Food Store Brand for Consumer Satisfaction by Consumer Lab, and Manufacturer of the Year.

In 2013 as the company was on the eve of celebrating the 25th year in business Bruce and his parents decided to take their desire to help people to a new level that they call Pathway to a Better Life – which is now seen in the Barlean’s logo. Bruce and his parents had always been generous in their giving and support of charities, but as part of the Pathway to a Better Life they decided to increased partnership with charitable organizations such as: Vitamin Angels, Compassion International, KidsTown International, Autism Hope Alliance, Engedi Refuge, Project 92, and others. And because so many people are unable to meet basic nutritional needs, Bruce created a comprehensive Omega-3 and multivitamin formula that he distributes free-of-charge to local food banks. In addition, Bruce decided the company would supply food banks with organic coconut oil to provide people with a health alternative to standard cooking oils.

Always generous with his time Bruce has served as a youth leader for his local church for several years and continues to mentor youth. He has been on several not for profit boards including; Whatcom County Pregnancy Center (2003-2006), Natural Products Association (dates?), and the Institute for Natural Medicine Leadership Council (presently).

The Barlean family have been avid supporters of Bastyr University since the 1990’s and in 2013 were given Bastyr’s most prestigious honor, the Mission Award, which recognizes their leadership over time in improving the health and well-being of the human community.

Bruce currently resides in Ferndale, WA with his wife Lisa and their two dogs: Heinz & Shadow. When he’s not helping others he can be found fishing (catch & release).

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Michelle Simon, PHD, ND

President & CEO

As president and CEO of INM, Dr. Simon brings her passion for working with organizations dedicated to improving the quality and delivery of healthcare. This desire stems from her years of practice as a licensed naturopathic physician. In addition to holding a Naturopathic Doctorate from Bastyr University she also holds a PhD in Biomedical Engineering from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

She has served on boards for the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP), the Naturopathic Physicians Research Institute (NPRI), and several advisory boards. Dr. Simon served nine years on the Washington State Health Technology Clinical Committee, as Ambassador to the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine (AIHM) and was recognized as 2018 AANP Physician of the Year. Dr. Simon shares with her husband a passion for adventure travel, preferably by boat or motorcycle. She also enjoys teaching a women’s off-road motorcycling class.