Weight Gain Causes Loss of Taste Buds and Flavor Intensity

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Robin Dando, PhD Assistant Professor Director, Cornell Sensory Evaluation Facility Department of Food Science Cornell University Ithaca, NY 14853

Dr. Dando

Robin Dando, PhD
Assistant Professor
Director, Cornell Sensory Evaluation Facility
Department of Food Science
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings? 

Response: For many years, people have been interested in if gaining weight can change how we perceive foods, thus maybe encouraging less healthy food choices.  There is some evidence in previous work that if we become obese, we seem to perceive things as tasting less intense.  Now if this were the case, to make up for this we might eat more of whatever food it was we were eating, or conversely we might choose something that tasted more intense, to make up this difference.  More intense usually means higher calories, so if we took either of these approaches, we’re at risk for weight gain.

In our study, we examined the taste buds of mice who were fed an unhealthy diet that induces obesity, versus sibling mice fed a more healthy diet that keeps them lean.  The mice gaining weight ended up after only 8 weeks with a lot fewer taste buds than the lean mice.  This loss of taste buds represents one explanation for foods tasting less intense to the obese.

MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Our study highlights another danger to weight gain; that once you’ve put on weight, you may no longer get the positive feeling you crave from great tasting foods, and this may drive you to start eating more, chasing this feeling.  In the end, loss of taste may be a really important reason why sticking to that diet is so tough, that once we’ve lost taste function, the healthy food that others seem to enjoy just doesn’t taste good to us any more.  

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: In the future, more information on the specific molecular mechanisms that causes this taste loss with weight gain would be important to flesh out (no pun intended!).  We already know that it’s not just the diet the mice are consuming that’s causing them to lose taste buds; mice genetically resistant to obesity eating the same diet don’t lose taste.  This means it’s more likely that it’s the physiological effects of becoming obese that are to blame.

Secondly, we also know that taste loss is related to the inflammation that occurs when we put on weight; when we genetically impede the inflammation response, taste is preserved despite the mice gaining weight.  But the finer details still warrant more study, because if we fully understand what causes this depletion of taste, we can fix it! 

MedicalResearch.com: Is there anything else you would like to add? 

Response: This work couldn’t have happened without generous support from the American Heart Association, we thank them for their backing.


PLOS Biology
Inflammation arising from obesity reduces taste bud abundance and inhibits renewal

Andrew Kaufman, Ezen Choo, Anna Koh, Robin Dando
Published: March 20, 2018

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