Stress eating? New research suggests stress hormones impact taste perception

Scientists have found receptors for stress-activated hormones on taste cells responsible for sweet, umami and bitter tastes - a finding that suggests stress can directly act on our perception of how food and drink tastes. New research has identified receptor sites for stress-activated hormones on oral taste cells that are responsible for our ability to taste sweet, bitter and umami.The findings suggest that these hormones, known as glucocorticoids, may act directly on taste receptor cells under conditions of stress to affect how these cells respond to sugars and certain other taste stimuli.

"Sweet taste may be particularly affected by stress," suggested lead author M. Rockwell Parker, PhD, from the Monell Chemical Sciences Center in the US. "Our results may provide a molecular mechanism to help explain why some people eat more sugary foods when they are experiencing intense stress."

But, the implications of the study don't finish at a potential influence on how we perceive the foods we put in our mouth. According to senior author Robert Margolskee, MD, PhD, the fact that taste cells are found throughout our body may mean that stress-induced hormones can have much wider effects."Taste receptors in the gut and pancreas might also be influenced by stress, potentially impacting metabolism of sugars and other nutrients and affecting appetite," he said - noting that future studies will continue to explore how stress hormones act to affect the taste system.

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