In class, we discussed gustation and the different mechanisms associated with taste processing. Later, we participated in an amusing activity. We taste tested different snacks! In this activity, we were given chips of different flavors and had to taste and guess the flavor. The first chip smelled like barbeque, but I thought that was too easy of a guess. After tasting it, I was left uncertain of the flavor because it wasn’t particularly gross or tasty. Upon receiving a suggestion card that revealed the flavor as “mustard,” I still was not convinced I knew the flavor. When the options of pickle, cheeseburger, and mustard were given to me, I immediately thought it could be cheeseburger because it distinctly tasted like the aftertaste of a McDonald’s cheeseburger (the one in the kid’s meal). The next two flavor of chips were easy to guess because they both tasted exactly like their said flavors, cheese and ketchup.
After the chip taste test, Dr. O’toole gave us a supplement, and the effect of that supplement was that we had a harder time tasting sweet. To test how well it worked, we tried a piece of chocolate, and I do not enjoy the taste chocolate. However, it was not as bad as I expected because the sweetness of chocolate that I hate was not perceived by me. Instead, I really just felt the texture more than usual, but maybe that was due to that specific type of chocolate.
Anyway, during this activity, it occurred to me that the flavors we tasted were savored by some and despised by others, and some people started to enjoy certain chips. This observation triggered an intriguing thought. In what situation does one change taste preference? When I thought of this idea, I dove into scientific literature to find an answer to my question, and I stumbled upon a pilot study that investigated changes in taste and food preferences in breast cancer patients.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, and the prevalence is increasing (DeSantis et al., 2015). To decrease the fatality and to remove cancerous tumors from individuals, treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and/or targeted hormone therapy are administered (Andre et al., 2006). Moreover, patients who underwent chemotherapy have reported changes in taste preference before treatment (Mattes et al., 1987). Different interactions between learned food aversion and basic side effects of chemotherapeutic drugs can limit what a person wants to eat and can alter taste (Mattes et al., 1987).
Based on previous research, Kim et al. (2019) decided to investigate how cancer treatment plays a role in appetite reduction and change in taste preference. In order to test this question, the authors administered taste detection thresholds and recognition thresholds and compared the results between breast cancer patients and healthy subjects (control group) for sweet, salty, bitter, and sour solutions. The taste detection threshold is the lowest point at which one can distinguish the solution from water, and the recognition threshold is the lowest concentration that one can recognize and correctly identify the solution (Keast and Roper, 2007). If one has high sensitivity to a specific taste, then there will be reduced detection thresholds and recognition thresholds of that taste, and vice versa. The changes in taste thresholds and food preferences were monitored before and during treatment in the breast cancer patient group.
Both detection and recognition thresholds were measured in both the experimental and control group at baseline. The baseline data showed that the experimental group had lower sweet and salty detection and recognition thresholds and higher sour recognition threshold compared to the control group. The bitter thresholds (detection and recognition) were similar between both groups. The results of this study showed that as treatment progressed, the detection thresholds and recognition thresholds in breast cancer patients for sweet declined significantly compared to the threshold at baseline. The other tastes’ thresholds (detection and recognition) were not affected. For food preference, at baseline and during treatment, the patients had a consistent preference for mild and soft dishes (Kim et al., 2019).
Taking these results, Kim et al. (2019) concluded that at baseline, sensitivities to sweet, salty and sour were different in breast cancer patients compared to healthy individuals. Furthermore, as cancer treatment progressed, sensitivity to sweet increased and the other tastes were unaffected when compared to baseline. The results provide useful information to better understand what cancer patients can be sensitive to in regards to food. Overall, this information can be used to accommodate them so that their food intake can increase even during treatment to lower malnutrition rates commonly seen in cancer patients.(Kim et al., 2019).
I found this paper quite intriguing because it showed how certain conditions in life can impact what you do or don’t want to consume, therefore changing one’s taste preference. I never took the time to think about how changes in taste preference can impact health in several ways. There are so many other fields to explore preferential changes in taste anywhere spanning from general aging to food neophobia in autism spectrum disorders. Wow, who would have that a simple activity would unravel such a deep avenue of thought?!
Andre, F., Mazouni, C., Hortobagyi, G. N., & Pusztai, L. (2006). DNA arrays as predictors of efficacy of adjuvant/neoadjuvant chemotherapy in breast cancer patients: Current data and issues on study design. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA) – Reviews on Cancer, 1766(2), 197–204. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbcan.2006.08.002
DeSantis CE, Bray F, Ferlay J, Lortet-Tieulent J, Anderson BO, Jemal A (2015) Cumulative logistic regression with food preference score as an ordinal variable was used to compare the preference of BC patients and CTRLs. The analyses were adjusted for age.1.International Variation in Female Breast Cancer Incidence and Mortality RatesCancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention 24 (10):1495–1506
Keast, R. S. J., & Roper, J. (2007). A Complex Relationship among Chemical Concentration, Detection Threshold, and Suprathreshold Intensity of Bitter Compounds. Chemical Senses,32(3), 245–253. https://doi.org/10.1093/chemse/bjl052
Kim, Y., Kim, G. M., Son, S., Song, M., Park, S., Chung, H. C., & Lee, S.-M. (2019). Changes in taste and food preferences in breast cancer patients receiving chemotherapy: A pilot study. Supportive Care in Cancer. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00520-019-04924-9
Mattes, R. D., Arnold, C., & Boraas, M. (1987). Learned food aversions among cancer chemotherapy patients. Incidence, nature, and clinical implications. Cancer, 60(10),2576–2580. https://doi.org/10.1002/10970142(19871115)60:10<2576::AID CNCR2820601038>3.0.CO;2-5
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