Smokers’ taste buds ‘do not allow them to taste bitterness of coffee’

Though conventional pairing has cigarettes and coffee going together, researchers have found that the toxic chemicals in tobacco may hamper taste bud regeneration, resulting in smokers not being able to adequately taste the bitterness of their regular cup of joe.

The researchers, led by Nelly Jacob of the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital APHP in France, published results of their study in the journal Chemosensory Perception.

They note that tobacco’s chemicals are already known to cause a loss of taste in smokers, as well as structural changes to the fungiform papillae of the tongue – where taste buds are found.

What has been unknown is to what extent smokers’ taste range is affected, whether it returns to normal upon quitting smoking and if so, how long that takes.

Taste buds are largely responsible for conveying sweet, sour, bitter, salty and metallic sensations. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the responsibilities of the taste system include:

  • Triggering digestive systems that change secretions of saliva, stomach acid and pancreatic juices
  • Enhancing feelings of pleasure and satiety when eating
  • Determining quality of foods and determining “good” tasting foods from “bad” ones, which could have potential toxins.

To further investigate the changes in taste buds caused by smoking, Jacob and colleagues tested the ability of 451 study participants to recognize and rate intensity of the four basic tastes – sweet, sour, bitter and salty.

Tobacco product accumulation could impede taste bud regeneration

Smokers may not be able to fully taste the bitterness of coffee, researchers say.

Dividing the participants into three groups (smokers, non-smokers and former smokers), the team conducted the voluntary tests during three separate and consecutive “World No-Tobacco Days.”

A person’s ability to recognize salty, sweet or sour tastes was not influenced by smoking status, the researchers say. However, smoking status did affect their ability to taste the bitterness in caffeine.

While bitter receptors in the tongue are normally able to detect this sensation in even low concentrations, nearly 20% of smokers were not able to correctly identify the taste.

Of the former smokers, 26.5% were not able to identify the taste, while only 13.4% of the non-smokers were unable to correctly identify the bitter samples.

Speaking about their findings, Jacob says:

 “We consider that the perception of bitter taste should be examined more closely, both as a tool for smoking cessation or for preventing smoking initiation. More generally, it should be worthwhile to consider the role of chemosensory perceptions in smoking behavior.”

The team believes the accumulation of some tobacco products in the body could impede taste buds regenerating, which could still affect a person’s ability to recognize certain tastes after they have quit smoking.

In the world of taste bud research, Medical News Today recently reported on a digital taste simulator that can produce the four main elements of taste. Researchers say it could one day be used to improve or regenerate sense of taste in cancer patients whose taste buds have been impaired by chemotherapy.

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