taste test longevity
May 20, 2014

Sense Of Taste May Play A Role In Longevity

April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

How food tastes can influence healthy habits by encouraging or discouraging us from eating certain foods, but can taste do more? According to two new studies published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS), taste may play a role in our longevity as well.

Our taste buds control our longing for sweet, salty or bitter foods, but the research teams from the University of Michigan, Wayne State University and Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research in Switzerland found that they may also play a powerful role in a long and healthy life.

The researchers found that suppressing the ability to taste food in fruit flies, regardless of how much the animal eats, can cause significant increases or decreases in length of life, as well as promote healthy aging.

The fruit flies demonstrated that bitter tastes could negatively affect lifespan, while sweet tastes had positive effects on longevity. The most surprising, however, was the effect of the taste of water. Fruit flies that were unable to taste water lived up to 43 percent longer than flies with the ability, suggesting that the loss of taste might cause physiological changes to help the body adapt to the perception that it's not getting adequate nutrients.

The researchers suggest fruit flies that have lost the ability to taste water might compensate for a perceived water shortage by storing greater amounts of fat. These fat stores would produce water internally. The researchers plan to continue their studies to understand why bitter and sweet tastes affect aging.

"This brings us further understanding about how sensory perception affects health. It turns out that taste buds are doing more than we think," said Scott Pletcher, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Molecular and Integrative Physiology at the University of Michigan and research associate professor at the Institute of Gerontology and senior author on the first study.

"We know they're able to help us avoid or be attracted to certain foods but in fruit flies, it appears that taste may also have a very profound effect on the physiological state and healthy aging," said Pletcher, who worked with Michael Waterson, a PhD graduate student in U-M's Cellular and Molecular Biology Program.

"Our world is shaped by our sensory abilities that help us navigate our surroundings and by dissecting how this affects aging, we can lay the groundwork for new ideas to improve our health," said senior author of the other study, Joy Alcedo, Ph.D, assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Wayne State University, formerly of the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research in Switzerland. Ivan Ostojic, Ph.D., of the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research in Switzerland collaborated with Alcedo on this study.

Health-related characteristics such as athletic performance, Type II diabetes and aging have been shown to be influenced by sensory perception in prior research. These studies, however, are the first to provide in-depth looks into the role of taste perception.

"These findings help us better understand the influence of sensory signals, which we now know not only tune an organism into its environment but also cause substantial changes in physiology that affect overall health and longevity," Waterson added. "We need further studies to help us apply this knowledge to health in humans potentially through tailored diets favoring certain tastes or even pharmaceutical compounds that target taste inputs without diet alterations."