Pine Mouth

Before you laugh, this is actually a legitimate thing we are currently suffering from! I had to share because I think it’s one of the strangest thing I’ve ever experienced.

The other day Sami started to complain that he had a really bitter taste in his mouth. We started researching online about the possible causes but didn’t give it too much thought until the next day when I started to get the same terrible taste. I started to jump to conclusions when I read that lead poisoning can cause a bitter, metallic taste in the mouth and within an hour I was convinced that we had all been poisoned.

Travelling in developing countries, there is always a lingering fear that we will encounter an unsafe environment and the possibilities are very real. While our situation turned out no to be lead – don’t worry I’m getting there – I did learn that lead poisoning is a real issue in Malaysia. More than 60% of decorative paints sold in Malaysia still contain lead, despite there being viable alternatives (the US outlawed lead in paint in 1978!), and many rivers are contaminated with lead from heavy industrial and mining activities. Even many toys are still produced with lead – something which seems insane given the extremely well documented health impacts on children.

In typical fashion, Sami wasn’t so quick to jump to conclusions and continued to search for what he thought was a more legitimate explanation. I still don’t know how he found the pine mouth explanation but his research skills are seriously top notch.

It turns out that there is one variety of pine nuts (there are four in case you were wondering) which come from a Chinese White Pine that have been discovered to cause prolonged bitter taste after being eaten. It just so happens these were the stupid pine nuts we bought and that Nu became obsessed with! Interestingly enough, it was first reported in in a scientific journal only in 2001. Since then there have been several studies on pine mouth, which have shown that only 2-3 nuts must be consumed and that the symptoms typically last anywhere from 3 days to 2 weeks. What’s also interesting is that when you eat them they do not taste strange at all – they taste exactly like other pine nuts. The bitter taste usually begins around 1-3 days after the nuts have been eaten and is brought on whenever you eat or drink something. Poor Nu has been refusing food and water for two days and we didn’t understand why!

Shockingly, very little is known about the cause of the bitter taste but those who have researched the topic have said that pine mouth is likely responsible for many unnecessary medical interventions including antibiotics and scans for the unexplained symptoms. I understand why – I was ready to take us all the emergency room.

I hope you learned something from our little Malaysian medical investigation and don’t forget to watch out for those Chinese pine nuts!