It has been known that many people eat sugary foods when distressed. Now, we may know why! New research from the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, PA, has located receptors for stress-activated hormones on the taste buds responsible for detecting sweet, bitter, and umami (savory) stimuli.
Their study suggests that these stress hormones, also known as glucocorticoids (GC), may bind directly to the taste receptors inside target cells under stressful conditions, which affect how the cells react to taste stimuli. This activation of the glucocorticoid receptors influences the taste preferences and metabolism in humans and mouse models.
Published in the journal Neuroscience Letters, the researchers used a mouse model to locate GC receptors on the taste buds of the tongue that identified sweet, savory, and bitter tastes. They found the highest concentration of GC receptors were called Tas1r3, which are particularly sensitive to sweet and savory tastes.
"Sweet taste may be particularly affected by stress," said lead author M. Rockwell Parker, Ph.D., a chemical ecologist at Monell. "Our results may provide a molecular mechanism to help explain why some people eat more sugary foods when they are experiencing intense stress."
The researchers add that individuals increase the intake of salty foods when under stress; however, this study did not find any glucocorticoid receptors in taste buds linked with salty and sour tastes.
Taste buds are not only found on the tongue, but in the gut and pancreas as well. The research team believes that stress may also affect taste receptors in these areas.