A new study says that, as people age, they may lose the ability to detect the taste of iron in drinking water. This piece of startling health news raises the concern that older adults could be at risk of over-exposure to iron.
Researchers point out that tasting the metallic flavor in water can help people limit exposure to metals such as iron. This trace element, required by the body to transport oxygen in red blood cells, is found naturally in water or from the corrosion of iron water-supply pipes. However, doctors’ advice to all patients is that you need less iron after the age of 50.
That metallic flavor in water, caused by the dissolved iron and copper commonly found in groundwater or that may leak into tap water from corroded pipes, has been an issue for both consumers and utility companies.
More than two million miles of the United States’ water and wastewater pipes are nearing the end of their useful life. But, these facilities, which are generally underground, don’t attract too much attention. This study is highlighting the fact that attention may be necessary.
Studies also suggest that older people who consume too much iron — especially in natural supplements and iron-rich foods — may be at increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease and other age-related conditions. Add to this that scientists have long known that taste perception fades with age. So what were the gaps in knowledge about how aging affects perception of a metallic flavor in water?
In a study with 69 people, researchers identified a distinctive age-related decline in people’s ability to taste iron. People over age 50 tended to miss the metallic taste of iron in water, even at normal levels above the thresholds set by the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency and the World Health Association.
This may have implications for other metals of health concern. What springs immediately to mind is copper from copper pipes. Copper is in fact less flavorful than iron and is believed to be more toxic.
If you are concerned, inquire about having your water and pipes tested for mineral levels. See what help your local government can provide as well.