Why obesity might dull your taste buds

A new study sheds light on why obesity fundamentally alters our relationship with food.

It's partially due to changes in the tastes buds, say researchers from the University of Buffalo.

In an animal-model study, scientists found that severely overweight mice had a reduced ability to detect sweets – they had fewer taste cells that responded to this type of flavored stimuli. Moreover, cells that did respond to sweets did so rather weakly, the study reports.

Appetite regulation

While other studies have shown that obesity can lead to brain changes that affect the body's tasting "system," no research had been done on how tongue cells might be directly affected, said lead scientist Kathryn Medler, Ph.D., associate professor of biological sciences at UB.

“What we see is that even at this level – at the first step in the taste pathway – the taste receptor cells themselves are affected by obesity,” Medler said. “The obese mice have fewer taste cells that respond to sweet stimuli, and they don’t respond as well.”

The team measured the animals' responses to different foods using a process called calcium signaling, in which cells that recognize a certain taste temporarily show increased calcium levels.

New treatments?

Since taste cells play a critical role in determining how much we eat, it's possible that obese people are eating more because they're having trouble detecting flavors as well as thin people do.

The findings could lead to new therapies that address obesity, Medler said:

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. These cells are out on your tongue and are more accessible than cells in other parts of your body, like your brain.

Results of the study are published in the journal PLOS One.

Source: University of Buffalo

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