Is dulled taste causing your patients to gain weight?


According to a Cornell University study, those with an impaired sense of taste often choose sweeter, higher-calorie food options—something that could put them in danger of gaining excess weight.

“We found that the more people lost sensitivity to sweetness, the more sugar they wanted in their foods,” says lead author Robin Dando, assistant professor of food science.

While a connection has often been suspected between diminished taste and obesity, it had never been tested before. In order to look at the effects of lowered taste, Dando dulled the taste buds of participants, giving them an herbal tea containing Gymnema Sylvestre, which is known to block sweet receptors. Then, they were asked to add their preferred amount of sugar to bland concoctions, allowing them to obtain optimal sweetness.

The study showed that for a regular, sugary 16-ounce soft drink, a person with a 20 percent reduction in the ability to taste sweet would crave an extra teaspoon of sugar to reach an optimal level of sweetness, as compared to someone with unaltered taste response. Exposure to repeatedly high levels of sugar could lead to weight gain.

“The gustatory system — that is, the taste system we have — may serve as an important nexus in understanding the development of obesity. With this in mind, taste dysfunction should be considered as a factor,” Dando said.

Certain medications, including those for thyroid health and cancer, may cause dulled taste. What’s more, certain nutritional deficiencies, like vitamin B12 and zinc, may contribute to this ailment. If your patients are experiencing dulled taste, treating these underlying causes—or counteracting the side effects of different medications—may help them to regain this important sense. With this, they’ll have another tool in their weight loss and weight maintenance arsenal.


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