Spoonful of Salt Helps the Medicine Go Down

From the WebMD Archives

May 1, 2002 -- Adding salt to bitter-tasting medicines makes it easier for children -- and adults -- to take them without the fuss and sour faces.

Many common medicines taste bitter due to the compounds they contain. But blocking the bitter taste by putting the medicine in tablet form isn't very effective for small children who are unable to swallow pills. That leaves many parents battling closed-lipped children at medicine time.

But a new study may offer some hope of resolving this age-old conflict between parent and child. Researchers at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia found adding common table salt to the mix reduces the bitterness of many medicinal compounds.

Yanina Pepino, PhD, and colleagues presented their findings at the annual meeting of the Association of Chemoreception Sciences in Sarasota, Fla.

Twenty-six girls and 18 boys, aged 7-10, and their mothers served as taste testers. The researchers found that salt masked the bitter tastes and made the compounds more pleasant for both the children and the adults.

The researchers gave the children and their mothers pairs of solutions to taste. Each of the solutions contained bitter compounds, but one also had salt added to it. They asked the testers to indicate which of the solutions tasted more bitter and which tasted better, and to rank them from most to least preferred.

The researchers found that both children and adults preferred the salted solutions, and that the salt seemed to suppress the perceived bitterness of the solution. The children were also more fond of the salty solutions than the adults were.

The study authors suggest incorporating salt into bitter medications designed for children may be a good way to improve the medicine-taking habits of picky young patients.