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Chewing the Fat

So, it turns out there is scientific evidence that we are programmed to crave fat. Hooray! In fact, our own tongues may be to blame. New research suggests the little traitors have receptors designed to recognize the presence of fat.

The revelation comes courtesy of three cups of solutions, one a fatty oil and two similar in texture but fat-free. Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis asked 21 obese participants to identify the one that was different. To ensure that taste was the only factor at play, researchers conducted the test in red light to eliminate visual cues and had the participants wear nose clips.

The result? Fat changes our tongue’s perception of foods, like the presence of salt or sugar.

To the delight of therapists everywhere, it turns out we can also blame our parents for our particular affinities to fat. The test was repeated multiple times for each participant, to nail down the threshold at which they could perceive the difference. One specific genetic variation does, in fact, have an impact on sensitivity to fat.

The study appears in The Journal of Lipid Research; we suggest reading it with some French fries, mayo and beer close at hand.

The fatty acid translocase gene, CD36, and lingual

Lipase influence oral sensitivity to fat in obese subjects

Washington University School of Medicine, United States


The precise orosensory inputs engaged for dietary lipids detection in people are unknown. We evaluated whether a common SNP (rs1761667) in the CD36 gene that reduces CD36 expression and the addition of orlistat, a lipase inhibitor, to reduce fatty acids (FA) release from triacylglycerols (TG), the main component of dietary fats, would attenuate fat orosensory sensitivity in humans. Twenty one obese subjects with different rs1761667 genotypes (6 AA, 7 AG and 8 GG) were studied on two occasions in which oleic acid and triolein orosensory detection thresholds were measured using emulsions prepared with and without orlistat. Subjects homozygous for the G-allele had 8 fold lower oral detection thresholds for oleic acid and triolein than subjects homozygous for the A allele, which associates with lower CD36 expression (P=0.03). Thresholds for heterozygous subjects were intermediate. Addition of orlistat increased detection thresholds to triolein (log threshold = -0.3 ± 0.2 vs. 0.3±0.1; p<0.001) but not oleic acid (log threshold= -1.0±0.2 vs. -0.8±0.2; p>0.2). In conclusion, this is the first experimental evidence for a role of CD36 in fat gustatory perception in humans. The data also support involvement of lingual lipase and are consistent with the concept that FA and not TG is the sensed stimulus.





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