Blacksburg, Va. About two million cancer patients currently receiving certain drug therapies and chemotherapy find foods and beverages to have a foul metallic flavor, according to a medical study. In general, more than 40 percent of hospitalized patients suffer from malnutrition due to taste and smell dysfunction.
"Unfortunately, these problems that impact nutrition and quality of life are underestimated and understudied by oncologists," said Andrea Dietrich, Virginia Tech professor of civil and environmental engineering (CEE).
Dietrich believes there are two components to the metallic flavor the taste of metal ions on the tongue and the production of metal-catalyzed odors in the mouth that create a retro-nasal effect. "I am attempting to gain a better understanding of the metallic sensation, its prevention, and application to human health," Dietrich said.
Along with two of her university colleagues, Susan E. Duncan, professor of food science and technology, and YongWoo Lee, an assistant professor in the biomedical sciences and pathology department and a member of the Virginia Tech-Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences, Dietrich is the recipient of a $200,000 grant from the Institute of Public Health and Water Research (IPWR) to examine the problems of foul flavored water. The interdisciplinary investigative team combines proficiency in food oxidation and off-flavors, water chemistry, cell biology, and human perception.
Dietrich, the principal investigator on the project, is an expert on water quality and treatment, as well as its taste and odor assessment. In fact there are some 33 identified flavors of drinking water acknowledged by the American Water Works Association and Research Foundation (AwwaRF). They range in description from "wet paper" to "crushed grass" to "peaty" to "plastic."