Obesity Affects Taste Perception, Study Shows

Staff Writer
A high-fat diet can alter your taste buds, reducing how well you taste umami and sweet flavors

Could obesity change your taste buds?

Turns out, packing on the pounds doesn't just affect whether or not you fit into your favorite pair of skinny jeans; a new study published in PLOS ONE found that obesity might affect taste receptors in your tongue, making it more difficult to detect sweet flavors.

Researchers at the University of Buffalo performed tests on 50 mice, placing half on a high-fat diet and half on normal mouse chow. After eight weeks, mice in the first group had significantly gained weight, and both groups were given bottle preference tests. Furthermore, levels of calcium were measured in taste receptor cells, as calcium levels within the cells usually increase when certain "tastes" are detected.

According to the study, taste-induced calcium signals in taste cells were significantly reduced in obese mice, especially for sweet and bitter flavors. "Not only were fewer taste cells from the obese mice sensitive to the sweet stimuli, but within the responsive cells, the evoked signals were significantly reduced in both peak amplitude and overall area," the study found. "Thus, the taste receptor cells appear to lose the ability to respond appropriately to these types of stimuli."

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So what does this mean? Theories suggest that having a reduced ability to taste sugar might increase the consumption of sugary foods, as it takes more to satiate the craving. "If we understand how these taste cells are affected and how we can get these cells back to normal, it could lead to new treatments," one researcher told Science Daily. "These cells are out on your tongue and are more accessible than cells in other parts of your body, like your brain."