Here’s why weight gain could cause loss of taste buds, study says

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Previous research shows that people seem to loose their sense of taste as they gain weight, but scientists couldn't understand why. Now they may have finally found an answer, according to a new report.

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Researchers from Cornell University recently conducted a study, published in PLOS Biology, to closely investigate the function of the taste buds, which are clusters of cells on the tongue that help perceive the five tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami. They regenerate about 100 cells every 10 days as the older ones, which die off as they mature, are replaced with newer ones.

For their assessment, they first examined the tongues of obese mice that were fed a fatty diet. As the rodents got fatter, the older cells from their taste buds died more quickly, while the newer ones developed more slowly. In fact, they had 25 percent fewer taste buds.

They then observed mutant mice incapable of gaining weight and fed them the same fatty diet. Researchers discovered they did not gain as much weight and had normal taste buds, ruling out fatty foods as the culprit.

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Finally, they looked at another set of mutant mice that were not able to produce a molecule called TNF alpha, a compound that creates inflammation in the body. TNF alpha levels are generally higher in obese individuals. When these mice became fatter, their taste sensitivity also did not decrease. Therefore, they realized taste bud loss could be associated with inflammation, which has been linked with obesity.

"These data together suggest that gross adiposity stemming from chronic exposure to a high-fat diet is associated with a low-grade inflammatory response causing a disruption in the balancing mechanisms of taste bud maintenance and renewal," lead author Robin Dando said in a statement.

While the researchers acknowledged they haven’t tested humans yet, they believe their findings are strong. They think the condition could make it more challenging for obese individuals to follow particular diets.

Furthermore, they noted that the loss is temporary as those who underwent bariatric surgery noticed their foods tasted better a few months after the procedure, according to another study.

Now the researchers said they hope to further their investigations to help “point to novel therapeutic strategies for alleviating taste dysfunction in obese populations."

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