Study suggests being a 'super-taster' of bitter flavours may put you at disease risk

February 9, 2018, University of Manitoba
Cruz believes her study is the first to suggest a link between genetic dislike of bitter flavours and risk of rheumatoid arthritis. Credit: University of Manitoba

Do you find vegetables like brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage and broccoli disgustingly bitter? How about grapefruit juice or black coffee?

If such flavours strike you as horribly intense, you may be a "hyper-taster," also known as a "super-taster."

It's in your genes, says Vivianne Cruz, a U of M master's student in oral biology whose research poster won an award at the College of Dentistry's recent 2018 Research Day.

People with the genotype PAV/PAV, Cruz explains, are highly sensitive to certain bitter-tasting compounds in food. Those with the genotype PAV/AVI – roughly half the population, including Cruz herself – are "medium tasters" of bitterness.

And those with the genotype AVI/AVI are "hypo-tasters" or "non-tasters" who can't detect the bitter compounds at all.

A quick way to identify your genotype is by placing a paper test strip coated with a bitter chemical onto your tongue. (Testing kits can be ordered online.) Cruz says the results are dramatic. "Super-tasters make a scary face," she says. "One friend of mine almost threw up. Non-tasters say things like, 'What am I supposed to be tasting?'"

These genetic differences have been known to scientists for decades. But less than 10 years ago, researchers discovered that aren't only found on the tongue. They're in other parts of the body, such as the digestive and respiratory systems. Understanding the receptors' functions outside the oral cavity has become an exciting field of research, Cruz says.

Scientists are starting to find associations between taste receptors and disease. It's been shown, for example, that non-tasters are at greater risk for chronic sinus infections and tooth decay.

Cruz believes her study, funded by the Canadian Arthritis Network and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, is the first in the world to search for a link between "taste genetics" and rheumatoid .

"Studies are finding that bitter taste receptors are related to the immune system, and rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease," she notes.

Cruz, who graduated as a dentist three years ago in her home country of Brazil, came to the U of M last year to conduct research with the interdisciplinary Manitoba Chemosensory Biology Research Group, led by oral biology professor Dr. Prashen Chelikani.

With Chelikani as her advisor, Cruz collaborated with a Rady Faculty of Health Sciences team including Dr. Carol Hitchon, rheumatologist and associate professor of internal medicine, and Dr. Robert Schroth, clinician scientist and associate professor of preventive dental science.

The team analyzed DNA from the saliva of 28 patients with rheumatoid arthritis, comparing their genotypes with those in a control group of 347 healthy individuals. The findings were more significant than expected.

"We found a higher frequency of super-tasters in the rheumatoid arthritis population than in the normal population, and a lower frequency of medium tasters and non-tasters," Cruz says.

"Research has shown that super-tasters present a stronger immune response against bacteria than the other two genotypes. That response results in increased secretion of antimicrobial compounds – an inflammatory process. We think this may contribute to the development of rheumatoid arthritis, a disease of chronic inflammation."

Cruz says the field of studying taste receptors holds great promise, particularly since there are 25 bitter taste receptors in humans, and her study focused on just one.

"For my Ph.D. research," she says, "we want to use a larger sample size and further explore the apparent association between genetics, inflammation, immunity and the risk of ."

Explore further: Bitter taste receptors regulate the upper respiratory defense system, research shows

Related Stories

Bitter taste receptors regulate the upper respiratory defense system, research shows

October 8, 2012
A new study from a team of researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, the Monell Chemical Senses Center, and the Philadelphia VA Medical Center, reveals that a person's ability to taste ...

To get the full flavor, you need the right temperature

May 14, 2012
Can the temperature of the food we eat affect the intensity of its taste? It depends on the taste, according to a new study by Dr. Gary Pickering and colleagues from Brock University in Canada. Their work shows that changes ...

Fat sense: Scientists show we have a distinct taste for fat

July 24, 2015
Move over sweet and salty: Researchers say we have a distinct and basic taste for fat, too.

Recommended for you

Low-fat or low-carb? It's a draw, study finds

February 20, 2018
New evidence from a study at the Stanford University School of Medicine might dismay those who have chosen sides in the low-fat versus low-carb diet debate.

Tobacco kills, no matter how it's smoked: study

February 20, 2018
(HealthDay)—Smokers who think cigars or pipes are somehow safer than cigarettes may want to think again, new research indicates.

Just a few minutes of light intensity exercise linked to lower death risk in older men

February 19, 2018
Clocking up just a few minutes at a time of any level of physical activity, including of light intensity, is linked to a lower risk of death in older men, suggests research published online in the British Journal of Sports ...

Calcium and Vitamin D supplements are not associated with risk of heart attacks

February 16, 2018
New research from the University of Southampton has found no association between the use of calcium or vitamin D supplementation and cardiovascular events such as heart attacks.

Women who clean at home or work face increased lung function decline

February 16, 2018
Women who work as cleaners or regularly use cleaning sprays or other cleaning products at home appear to experience a greater decline in lung function over time than women who do not clean, according to new research published ...

Study shows options to decrease risk of motor vehicle crashes for adolescent drivers

February 16, 2018
Adolescents who receive comprehensive and challenging on-road driving assessments prior to taking the license test might be protected from future motor vehicle crashes, according to a University of Alabama at Birmingham study ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.