Anxiety can cause a host of reactions in your body. Fast heart rate, shallow breathing, flushed skin, and blood pressure spikes are some of the more common stress reactions.
One of the lesser known responses is a change in the taste in your mouth. For some people, anxiety dries out the mouth, leaving behind a bitter or metallic taste.
You’re not imagining it: Stress and anxiety temporarily change conditions all over your body, including your mouth.
What the research says
Researchers have known for some time that when people are under stress, they become less sensitive to certain tastes.
In a 2012 study, researchers found that stress lowered people’s ability to perceive saltiness and sweetness — which they said could lead people to eat more of those foods during stressful periods.
The participants’ ability to taste sweetness decreased when they were anxious. The changes in taste sensitivity may have caused the participants to eat more of the grapes, M&Ms, peanuts, and pretzels provided.
Why a metallic taste?
For some people, anxiety causes an additional taste response: the presence of a persistent metallic taste. The medical name for it is dysgeusia.
Researchers don’t yet know exactly why the metallic taste appears. It may be because anxiety can cause your mouth to dry out, and the reduced flow of saliva causes bitter or metallic tastes.
It may be that anxiety-related taste changes happen because of chemicals released by your body’s fight-or-flight response.
Norepinephrine, one of the neurotransmitters your body releases in stressful situations, is known to temporarily change your taste receptors in your mouth, for example.
Another possibility is stress activates your endocannabinoid system — a chemical response that calms you when you’re anxious. Endocannabinoids can make you want to eat, and they can change the way food tastes to you.
BMS is a condition that causes an intense tingling and chronic or periodic pain, especially in the front parts of your mouth and tongue.
According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, the condition is around five times more common in women than it is in men, and it often begins in midlife or menopause.
People with BMS feel as though a hot liquid has scalded their mouths. For some, the feeling comes and goes, and for others the feeling persists. Many describe taste changes along with the burning feeling.
Although more research needs to be done to clarify exactly what causes BMS, researchers think it may have to do with overstimulation of your nerves in your mouth and tongue.
Other factors that contribute to the burning and tingling may include:
- bruxism (clenching your jaws and grinding teeth)
- irritants in food and drink
- xerostomia (dry mouth)
- immune disorders
If you’re experiencing anxiety, a metallic taste, and a persistent burning or intense tingling in your mouth and tongue, it’s important to talk with your healthcare provider.
BMS can be caused by certain medications and medical conditions, including:
- blood pressure medications
- antiretroviral medications
- gastroesophageal reflux (GERD)
- infection from some bacteria, including Candida, Enterobacter, Fusospirochetal, Helicobacter pylori, and Klebsiella
- dental devices that contain mercury, zinc, and benzoyl peroxide
- orthodontic devices
- food allergies, especially peanut, cinnamon, sorbic acid, and chestnuts
- chronic anxiety or depression
While some people describe the anxiety-altered taste as metallic, others describe it as sour, acidic, or bitter.
For some, the taste is just generally unpleasant. It may also feel as though you have bad breath or a film over your teeth.
You may be able to get rid of the metallic taste by trying one or more of these methods:
- Brush and floss regularly to maintain good oral health.
- Use an oral rinse to reduce harmful bacteria.
- Try chewing sugar-free gum or mints.
- Eliminate acidic and spicy foods that can worsen symptoms.
- Drink lots of water.
- Avoid smoking and using smokeless tobacco products.
- Prepare your meals with nonmetallic kitchen gear — and opt for nonmetallic utensils.
If the bad taste continues, talk with your healthcare provider about underlying conditions or medications that could be causing the problem and treatments that may help manage your symptoms.
If anxiety is causing a lasting metallic taste in your mouth, it might be a good idea to reduce the stress in your life. Here are some preventative strategies to try:
- Get plenty of rest. Anxiety may get worse if you’re fatigued, and fatigue can lead to more anxiety.
- Talk with your healthcare provider about changing medications that cause a metallic taste.
- Try acupuncture, yoga, and mindfulness techniques to lessen anxiety and stress.
- Consider cognitive behavioral therapy, a stress-lowering talk-therapy recommended by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
Your healthcare provider may prescribe an anti-anxiety medication to treat the condition.
A good place to start might be your primary care doctor or nurse practitioner. It’s important to find out whether an underlying health condition is at the root of the problem.
If you’d like to talk with a therapist about lowering anxiety, and getting rid of that taste in your mouth, here are some ways to find help nearby:
- Look for sister circles or anxiety support groups in your area. For online support try:
- Check out online one-on-one therapy through Betterhelp, Talkspace, or another therapy provider.
- Use a reliable online search tool to locate a therapist near you. You can start with:
- Read more about how to find the right therapist for you.
Anxiety can cause a wide range of physiological symptoms, including a bitter or metallic taste in your mouth.
Research has shown that there’s a strong connection between taste changes and stress — perhaps because of the chemicals that are released in your body as part of the fight-or-flight response.
Because prolonged anxiety can cause so many negative effects on your health, it’s important to reduce your stress level as much as you can.
Talk therapy works for many people, and you may also be able to lower your anxiety by getting more rest and practicing relaxing activities like yoga and meditation.
A lower-anxiety life could improve your overall sense of well-being — and eliminate that deeply unpleasant taste in your mouth.