Sweet, sour, salt, savoury, bitter AND fat: Scientists discover that tongue has 'sixth sense' for lipids
Findings could represent a breakthrough in the battle against obesity and diabetes
If you cannot resist a stodgy cake or chips, it may not be simply down to lack of willpower.
Some of us have a sixth sense of taste – for fat – and those of us who lack it could be more susceptible to piling on the pounds.
For years it was thought that the tongue could detect just four elements of taste – sweet, sour, salt and bitter. Then a fifth ‘savoury’ one was discovered.
Lard sense: Research in the United Sates has found that human beings have a sixth taste for fat
Now scientists believe a genetic variant can make some people far more sensitive to fat molecules than others.
Until now, it had been assumed that the desire to eat fatty foods was to do with the sensory system, with some people attracted to its smell and texture.
But the Washington University School of Medicine researchers found that obese people’s cravings for fatty food may be related to their levels of a receptor called CD36.
The study found that people who are less sensitive to the presence of fat in foods could be driven to eat more of it
Those with more of it are better at detecting the presence of fatty food, and seemingly less likely to gorge on it. Twenty-one overweight people were asked to taste solutions from three cups and point to which was different. One contained small amounts of a fatty oil, while the other two were fat-free.
Participants who made the most CD36 were eight times more sensitive to the presence of the fat than those who made around half the amount.
Researcher Professor Nada Abumrad said the finding could help treat obesity by finding a way to increase sensitivity to it.
‘What we will need to determine in the future is whether our ability to detect fat in foods influences our fat intake, which clearly would have an impact on obesity,’ she said.
As people eat more fat, it is possible they need more and more to satisfy their cravings, the researchers told the Journal of Lipid Research.
Previous tests of the CD36 receptor in animals have shown levels of it are not just genetic, but that eating more fat leads to less production of it.