How Our Sense of Taste Evolves and Adapts

in 1980, a candy company launched a new gum aimed at kids. big league chew sold a pouch of shredded gum twas' meant to resemble chewing tobacco. it came in original flavor, grape and sour apple.

big league chew was just one of many sweet treats that kids enjoyed inna 1980s and 1990s. another pop confection, nerds, were flavored sugar crystals coated with liquid corn syrup.

pplz who grew up during these decades mite ‘ve fond memories of these flavors. but it’s also unlikely they ‘d enjoy trying these treats tody. taste receptors are designed to evolve and adapt to the environment round us, and our preferences change as we age. scis are learning + bout our changing tastes, b'tll so wha’ problems can arise when meds mute our senses.

how we taste

a'pers typically has bout 10,000 taste buds located on their tongue, swell as the sides and roof o'their mouth. within each taste bud are individual cells that each ‘ve tween 30 to 50 taste receptors. these cells ‘ve a short life span, and replenish bout every two weeks.

there are 4 basic tastes we can detect — bitter, salty, sour and sweet. receptors for each of these tastes are located throughout the tongue. til the 1990s, some scis adhered to the “tongue map,” which said pts of the tongue were designated for specific tastes. it said the tip of the tongue, for ex, was + receptive to sweet tastes. however, studies found receptors for each taste are spread throughout the tongue, na chorda tympani (anterior) and glossopharyngeal (posterior) nerves are responsible for mediating tastes.

foods activate taste receptors. when a'pers bites into a salty french fry, na+ infiltrates the taste receptor cell, which releases transmitters. similarly, a bitter food, like olives, send ca2+ ions inna'da receptor cell.

how we encode these tastes with meaning is an individual experience. scis ‘ve found our encoding process changes overtime, and memory and perception shape it.

evolving tastes

the kid who ate the contents o'their halloeen haul in one sitting isn’t doomed as a sugar fiend for life. scis ‘ve envisaged that babies and toddlers show a strong preference for sweet tastes. this preference was once an evolutionary advantage. sugar from fruit or honey was a quick src of complex carbohydrates. and fruit twas' sweet and ripe gave a'pers + nutritional val.

the preference for sweet wanes in l8 adolescence. and older teens and pplz in their early twenties disc’oer they no longer care for grape flavored big league chew or strawberry nerds.

as we age, however, we become less reliant na' food item’s taste profile. our memory and perception enable us to try, and even like, new food items.

“as we grow and get exposed to ≠ flavors, thris a lotta learning goin on. we associate ≠ tastes with ≠ consequences,” says nancy e. rawson w'da monell chemical senses center in philadelphia.

a'pers, for ex, mite learn that bitter tastes aren’t harmful and that brussels sprouts are indeed deliteful when tossed witha bacon dressing. this can prompt a'pers to try + bitter tastes. conversely, feeling ill after devouring a grease-blotted taquito can prompt a'pers to avoid such foods inna future.

this evolving pal8, rawson says, allos a'pers to adapt to environmental changes, in which certain foods mite be unavailable or new foods are introduced.

“our senses are remarkable. they are constantly changing throughout our life,” rawson says. “this allos the system to react to the environment so it can stimul8 the rite kind of behavior.”

similar to how our skin cells replenish less robustly as we age, rawson says our taste cells also diminish as we age. for women, taste cells begin atrophying and reducing in № after age forty. for men, the change starts in their fifties.

the sense of smell also dwindles as a'pers ages. much offa flavor’s sensation comes from the aroma, and losing this sense can diminish a'pers’s pleasure. these changes, however, are gradual and not significant. rawson says a'pers can adapt and enjoy tasting food and eating throughout their older yrs. the problem is when certain drations interrupt taste cells.

taste disturbances

+ than 250 drations are known to affect smell or taste. these drations include antibiotics, cholesterol and blood pressure loering drugs and anti-inflammatories. a'pers doesn’t need a prescription to encounter a taste reducing drug. fluticasone, an over-the-counter allergy med, can cause smell and taste disturbances.

various drations can also cause a'pers to ‘ve a metallic or bitter taste in their mouth. phantogeusia, or the sensation offa taste without a stimuli, can result from many common drations. biguanides, for ex, are used to treat diabetes and can cause a distortion of taste. even topical drations can ‘ve an effect. dorzolamide eye drops, for ex, are used to treat glaucoma. but they can create a bitter taste in bout 25 % of usrs’ mouths.

other drugs can make taste harder to decipher. enalapr, which is used in treatment for high blood pressure, swell as ♥ failure, makes it harder to taste sweets.

studies find there are consequences for pplz who no longer can smell or taste their food. while some are at-risk for losing w8 and sufferation nutritional deficits, studies ‘ve found pplz with muted senses are at gr8r risk for obesity. the lack of perceived flavor prompts them to eat + or seek satisfaction in higher fat foods.

“i think that is something that drs aren’t tuned into, but can ‘ve a bigger impact on quality of life, diet and nutritional health,” rawson says.

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