when multiple sclerosis messes with your ability to taste food

A few years into my life with multiple sclerosis, I started noticing that food and beverages tasted … off.

Coffee was bitter. Wine was acidic. Sweet food was bland. And, worst of all, I couldn’t taste salt very well.

The folks at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s Momentum Magazine interviewed me for a story about taste dysfunction called, “Does this taste weird to you?”

The article starts by featuring yours truly:

As a salt-lover, Meredith O’Brien used to eat Ritz crackers upside down to savor the salt crystals dissolving on her tongue. But one day, two years into her diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, those same crackers tasted like plain paste. The next morning, her coffee tasted burnt. Red wine at dinner tasted sour. When O’Brien, who is based in the Boston area, brought up the issue to her neurologist, he said he’d never heard of such a thing.

“Taste alterations are a primary MS symptom that has flown largely under the radar,” confirms Mona Bostick, a dietitian-nutritionist in Greensboro, North Carolina, who also lives with MS. A 2016 study in the Journal of Neurology suggested that 15% to 32% of people with MS may experience taste deficits. A 2019 study in the Journal of Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology puts that number closer to 40%. The latter study also found that 68.4% of survey respondents complained of dry mouth, which further dampens flavor, as saliva helps taste buds do their job.

Read the rest of the article — which also quotes fellow MS patient and author Trevis Gleason, a chef who shares his “umami bomb” tips — here.

advance praise for ‘uncomfortably numb’

51-iodcld0l._sx330_bo1204203200_I’m deeply honored that several fellow writers have been kind enough to write blurbs for my forthcoming memoir, Uncomfortably Numb.

Take author Jessica Fechtor. When she was a 28-year-old graduate student, an aneurysm in her brain burst, leaving her with a long and difficult road to recovery. Fechtor deftly shared the story of her arduous journey in her bestselling memoir Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home. I greatly admired Stir, so it meant a lot to me to read what she had to say about my story:

Meredith O’Brien’s Uncomfortably Numb is a rare window into everyday life with multiple sclerosis, and how chronic illness can turn one’s very identity inside out. The illness is unpredictable: an initial diagnosis takes years to materialize, symptoms may or may not signal the progression of the disease, and treatments are imperfect. With candor, O’Brien bares her most vulnerable moments as she learns the new rules of working, parenting, and living in the present when the future is uncertain.

paperbackcover_smallThen there’s Maya Dusenbery — author of Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick — who also did me a solid with this blurb:

Uncomfortably Numb tells a sadly all-too-common story: of a woman whose symptoms were initially dismissed by doctors before a life-changing diagnosis. Frank and relatable, it will speak to anyone who knows the uncertainty that chronic illness brings and the resiliency it demands.

Author Trevis Gleason, a fellow multiple sclerosis patient himself, chronicled the devastating impact the disease has had on his own life in Chef Interrupted: Discovering Life’s Second Course in Ireland with Multiple Sclerosis. He graciously offered this about Uncomfortably Numb:

41phsdlnmjl._sx311_bo1204203200_A modern telling of the newly diagnosed story from a no-nonsense journalist, a gifted writer, a pragmatic New Englander. While uniquely her own — by definition — there will be few who have or know chronic illness who will not glimpse well-told aspects of their own experience in this memoir. Uncomfortably Numb is heart-breaking, it’s harrowing, and it’s heroic.  What is is not is candy-coated. Refreshingly honest, unguarded, and reflective about what is, arguably the most difficult half decade in Meredith O’Brien’s colorful life.

Thank you so much Jessica, Maya, and Trevis.

Image credits: Amazon.