redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online
The taste of beer can trigger dopamine release in a person´s brain, even without any effect from the alcohol it contains, researchers from the Indiana University School of Medicine have discovered.
The IU researchers recruited 49 men and used a pair of positron emission tomography (PET) scans to test for increased activity of the brain neurotransmitter which has been linked to drinking and other drugs of abuse.
The first scan was taken while the study participants were tasting beer, while the second was taken as they consumed a popular brand of sports drink. An analysis of both scans revealed “significantly more dopamine activity” following the tasting of beer than the other beverage, the researchers explained in a statement Monday.
Furthermore, the effect was said to be “significantly greater” among those men whose families had a history of alcoholism. Their findings have been published online in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.
“We believe this is the first experiment in humans to show that the taste of an alcoholic drink alone, without any intoxicating effect from the alcohol, can elicit this dopamine activity in the brain’s reward centers,” said David A. Kareken, a professor of neurology at the IU School of Medicine and the deputy director of the Indiana Alcohol Research Center.
Kareken added that the stronger effect in participants who have alcoholic relatives leads them to believe that dopamine release in response to cues such as the taste of beer could be an inherited risk factor for the condition. Dopamine has long been linked to the consumption of addictive drugs, but experts have had difficulty determining the exact role that the neurotransmitter plays, they said.
“Sensory cues that are closely associated with drug intoxication (ranging from tastes and smells to the sight of a tavern) have long been known to spark cravings and induce treatment relapse in recovering alcoholics. Many neuroscientists believe dopamine plays a critical role in such cravings,” the university said.
Each study participant was given a minute amount (15 milliliters) of their favorite type of beer over a 15-minute period of time, which allowed them to taste the beverage without experiencing any intoxication or giving them a discernible blood alcohol level. Kareken´s team then used a PET scanning compound that targeted changes in the brain´s dopamine receptors after each man consumed the beverage.
In addition to the results of the scan, the participants said they experienced an increase craving for beer, Brandon G. Oberlin, a post-doctoral fellow and first author of the paper, explained. No such cravings were experienced after consuming the sports drink, even though many claimed it tasted better than the alcoholic beverage, Oberlin added.