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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Obesity affects taste receptors

Obesity is huge problem. Sorry. I’ll be good from now on. Anyway, one of the challenges for combatting obesity is to get people to eat less. Unfortunately, that’s made all the harder by decreased sensitivity to taste. According to Amanda Maliphol, Deborah Garth and Kathryn Medler from The State University of New York at Buffalo, diet-induced obesity can change one
’s taste perception.
To be fair, the researchers conducted their tests in mice rather than human volunteers. The mice were from a strain that easily develops obesity under the right conditions, and the researchers were happy to give them those conditions. Half the mice were fed high fat mouse chow, and the other half were given regular mouse chow. As expected, the mice grew at least 30% heavier on the high fat diet.

After 10 weeks, taste receptors were harvested from the mice. When a taste receptor responds to a taste, calcium channels open within that receptor. Thus, researchers can look for a calcium response to see whether the receptor had been activated. The obese mice had fewer taste cells responding to sweet taste, and the cells that did respond did so at a lower rate than in the control mice. The taste cells from obese mice also had a diminished response to bitter taste.

Whether one is satisfying a sweet-tooth or avoiding unpleasant foods, these results don’t bode well for reducing dietary intake. The authors are quick to point out that they can’t connect behavioral changes to these findings. However, it’s not hard to speculate that finding one’s food less sweet and/or less bitter does not make it easier to eat less of it.

Maliphol AB, Garth DJ, & Medler KF (2013). Diet-induced obesity reduces the responsiveness of the peripheral taste receptor cells. PloS one, 8 (11) PMID: 24236129.