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Teen Nutrition: Do Hormones Affect Your Teen’s Sense of Taste & Smell?


This article on adolescents hormones and sense of smell and taste is part of a series on teenage nutrition. You can read the introduction to this series from these two articles “What Is On Your Family’s Breakfast Plate” and “Teenage Nutrition: Why You Should Pick This Battle For Your Adolescent.” We are very excited to bring you this and hope you feel comfortable to add your own thoughts, tips and suggestions.

Is puberty changing your teenager’s sense of smell and taste?

To answer this, let’s ask this question: What do pregnant women and teenagers have in common?

Hormones in high doses.


Pregnant women, especially in their first trimester experience an acute sense of smell and taste resulting in cravings and aversions for foods, smoking, drinking and environmental smells.

Evidence is less clear, but it seems logical that most teens also experience smell and taste changes during puberty. For ovulating females, the sense of smell is heightened during ovulation probably due to increased amounts of estrogen.

Let’s look at brain changes during the onset of puberty

“Our brain will direct the timing of puberty. A specialized area of the brain, called the hypothalamus, will start to produce gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH). GnRH will in turn activate another region of the brain, called the pituitary gland, to secrete luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) into the central blood circulation. In response to LH and FSH, the ovaries will start to make estrogens in girls and the testicles will make testosterone in boys. The rising levels of estrogens in girls and testosterone in boys
will start pubertal development.”(1)

“Basically, contrary to the vast majority of other neurons in the brain, the neurons that release GnRH do not originate from the neural tube (the primitive developing nervous system present in the foetus, which develops into the nervous system). Instead, these GnRH neurons are derived from the same stem cells which produce your olfactory system, i.e. the smelling system. In the womb, the majority of the olfactory system develops not from the neural tube, despite it being a component of the nervous system, but instead develops from a thickening in the embryological skin called the olfactory placode. The GnRH neurons are produced here and migrate to the hypothalamus where they just kind of sparsley space themselves around. You can’t really locate a single defined nucleus where GnRH neurons occur. So Puberty is intrinsically linked with our sense of smell, at least from a developmental point of view”. (2)

The area of the brain that controls the start of puberty and the sense of smell are located almost in the same place. If there is a defect in the brain development in this area of the brain, both puberty development and smell are non-existent.

And this defect causing absence of the onset of puberty and the sense of smell in teens is called?

Kallmann’s Syndrome

This is a genetic disorder where anosmia (inability to perceive odors) and hypogonadism (delayed onset of puberty) exist together. If a teen has not started signs of puberty by the age of 15 and they experience the absence of the sense of smell, they should be seen by an endocrinologist to rule out Kallmann’s Syndrome.

Are there decreases in taste preferences during puberty?

Your older teen wanting to eat less sugar? (or maybe not! ) Research on taste in teens has demonstrated that decreased sugar preferences during late puberty is linked with a drop in bone growth markers. This drop in sugar preference apparently not due to hormones but to slower bone growth.

And the auxiliary olfactory glands controlling teen pheromones: “Wanna hang out?”

Dr. Oz  at Sharecare have answered questions about teens and pheromones. This is another hot topic about our teen’s noses. What draws teens to ask “Wanna hang out?” to a member of the opposite sex? The sense of smell or pheromones that float through the air from other human being that trigger sexual attraction to another. These triggers that are stimulated through the nerves located just behind the nostrils in the nose dividing wall.

How an increased sense of smell can affect your teen’s nutritional intake

Our sense of smell is directly correlated to our sense of taste. If we cannot smell, we cannot taste. If our sense of smell is heightened, so is our sense of taste. A teenager with a stronger sense of smell may experience:

  • Aversions to strong food odors
  • Suddenly not liking foods that they have always liked
  • Cravings for certain foods with strong flavors; bitter or salty
  • Wanting to avoid the kitchen when food is cooking
  • Not being able to sit down to eat if the smell of food is too strong on their plate

If your adolescent experiences reactions to odors or tastes, it is most likely a normal reaction.

Since smell and taste are connected, has your teen shown some dietary effects from their puberty hormones?

It is difficult to objectively study the phenomenon of a teen’s sense of smell and taste. As parents we can observe and remark on our teen’s habits. Do you readers have any teen taste or smell stories from your own personal experience or as a parent? I can tell you mine: I have noticed that my almost 13-year-old daughter has made more comments on the smells of foods from the kitchen. Sometimes it is overwhelming for her (both good and bad!). My 11-year-old son has had extreme cravings for McWraps! We hardly go to McDonald’s, but he had one of those wraps, we went back again and he had a second one and now he can’t stop asking to go back again and dive into another wrap!

Share your stories in the comment section below, would love to hear about this topic with you.

Here are some articles published from this series on teenage nutrition. Feel free to click on the links here:

Teenagers and Energy Drinks, Teens and Endocrine Disruptors, Teens and Eating Disorders, Healthy Breakfast Ideas for Teens, Teens and Caffeine, Importance of Good Nutrition in Teens, Vitamin and Mineral Supplements in Teens,Vegetarianism in Teens. and Hormone Changes in Teens Affect Their Smell.

(1) Taken from www.sense.org.uk

(2) Taken from Captain Nitrogen “Puberty can be a Smelly Business”

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4 Responses to Teen Nutrition: Do Hormones Affect Your Teen’s Sense of Taste & Smell?

  1. Alisa November 15, 2013 at 14:19 #

    My 9 1/2 year old daughter who is noticably developing ( I was a young developer too) one loves peanut butter by the spoonful, the next day saying she doesn’t like it because it tastes bad……….Then a few days later while eating her favorite Kit-Kat candy says that it tastes different too…….I’m hoping it’s hormones…..

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. I Ate What?! | Study Abroad 2016 - July 4, 2016

    […] their teen years growth makers start to play a role in desired foods and tastes. For example, a study found that when bone growth slows later in puberty, there is also a drop in the desire for sweets. I have […]

  2. Maggie Ayre - May 1, 2012

    A very interesting article. I've certainly noticed my taste buds changing as I've got older. http://t.co/smJUSQ74

  3. Mary-Jo Overwater - April 27, 2012

    RT @BrightonHealth: Teen Nutrition: Do Hormones Change Your Teen's Sense of Taste & Smell? http://t.co/zb4XxhuR

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