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Zinc status and taste acuity in older Europeans: the ZENITH study



Age-related decline in taste acuity may be both a cause and an effect of depleted zinc and/or increased zinc requirement.


The aim of this study was to explore associations between zinc status and taste acuity in healthy older European adults aged 55–90 y.


Volunteers were recruited within Italy (n=108 aged 70–90 y), the United Kingdom (UK) (n=93 aged 55–70) and two regions of France (n=186), Grenoble (aged 70–90 y) and Clermont-Ferrand (aged 55–70 y).


A signal detection theory approach was adopted, employing a three-alternative, forced-choice procedure. The data were converted to R-indices and bivariate correlations were computed to explore relationships between serum zinc, erythrocyte zinc and taste acuity. ANOVA was undertaken to determine regional differences in zinc status.


Higher erythrocyte zinc status was associated with better acuity for salt (sodium chloride) taste in the sample as a whole (P=0.012) (n=385). Higher serum zinc levels were associated with greater sensitivity to sour taste (citric acid) (P=0.015) only in the older groups (aged 70–90 y). There were no apparent associations between serum or erythrocyte zinc status and acuity for bitter (quinine) or sweet (sucrose) tastes irrespective of age.


These results agree with those previously suggesting that age-related detriment in sensitivity for salt taste may be associated with depleted zinc.


ZENITH is supported by the European Commission ‘Quality of Life and Management of Living Resources’, Fifth Framework Programme, Contract no. QLK1-CT-2001-00168.

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Correspondence to B J Stewart-Knox.

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Guarantor: BJ Stewart-Knox.

Contributors: BSK designed the taste test protocol, performed the reported data analysis and drafted this paper. EEAS provided training, performed the taste testing and assisted in the writing of this paper. HP compiled the database and converted the raw data to R-indices. GR advised on the statistical analysis. JMO coordinated the research at University of Ulster AP undertook all training and FI performed taste testing for INRAN. NM carried out the taste testing at Clermont-Ferrand and MA at Grenoble. JJS inputed to the protocol. CC coordinated ZENITH.

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Stewart-Knox, B., Simpson, E., Parr, H. et al. Zinc status and taste acuity in older Europeans: the ZENITH study. Eur J Clin Nutr 59, S31–S36 (2005).

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  • taste acuity
  • zinc status
  • signal detection theory
  • older adults

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