Science

A flavour of life: Sense of taste linked to health and longevity

22-May-2014 - By Nathan Gray+
A flavour of life: Sense of taste linked to health and longevity
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Our taste buds may play a ‘powerful’ role in living a long and healthy life, according to new research in fruit flies.

The early animal data, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), reports that suppressing the fruit fly’s (Drosophila) ability to taste its food –regardless of how much it actually eats – can significantly increase or decrease its length of life and may potentially promote healthy aging.

Led by Dr Scott Pletcher from the University of Michigan, the team report in two separate studies that bitter tastes may have a negative effects on lifespan, while sweet tastes have a positive effect, and the ability to taste water had the most significant impact – flies that could not taste water lived up to 43% longer than other flies.

Recent studies have suggested that sensory perception can have an influence on certain health-related characteristics such as athletic performance, type II diabetes, and aging. The new studies, however, provide the first detailed look into the role of taste perception on wider health and longevity.

"This brings us further understanding about how sensory perception affects health,” commented Pletcher. “It turns out that taste buds are doing more than we think,"

"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."

"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," added Michael Waterson, who co-led the study.

A tasty life

The research findings suggest that in fruit flies, the loss of taste may cause physiological changes to help the body adapt to the perception that it's not getting adequate nutrients.

In the case of flies whose loss of water taste led to a longer life, authors suggested that the animals may attempt to compensate for a perceived water shortage by storing greater amounts of fat and subsequently using these fat stores to produce water internally.

"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," added Dr Joy Alcedo of Wayne State University - senior author of the other study.

Further studies are planned to better explore how and why bitter and sweet tastes affect aging, they said.

"We need further studies to help us apply this knowledge to health in humans potentially through tailored diets favouring certain tastes or even pharmaceutical compounds that target taste inputs without diet alterations,” said Waterson.

Sources: Both studies were published in PNAS.
Study 1: Positive and negative gustatory inputs affect Drosophila lifespan partly in parallel to dFOXO signalling, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1315466111
Study 2: Water sensor ppk28 modulates Drosophila lifespan and physiology through AKH signalling, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1315461111

Related topics: Science