A bitter pill to swallow? Inter-individual variation in sensitivity to tastants and implications for alcohol consumption

John Castura/ April 30, 2019/ Conference Proceedings/ 0 comments

Consumption of alcohol is widespread throughout much of the world, impacting human health and well-being in several ways. Taste (bitterness, sourness, saltiness, sweetness, umami, and oleogustus) is an important driver of consumer preference and intake for many foods and beverages. Here, we report on two studies; the first (S1) assesses general sensitivity (responsiveness) to taste and somatosensory stimuli and its relationship to alcohol intake in a convenience sample of 435 adults using Kruskal-Wallis ANOVA. In the second study (S2) we further investigate one known source of individual taste variation (the thermal tasting phenotype) to determine whether it is associated with responsiveness to beer – the world’s most consumed alcoholic beverage – in a sample of 41 adults using temporal-check-all-that-apply (TCATA) methodology.

In S1, responsiveness to bitter and astringent stimuli was associated with intake of all alcoholic beverage types, with the highest consumption found in individuals with intermediate sensitivity. Sourness responsiveness tended to be inversely associated with all measures of alcohol consumption, and for all sensations the most sensitive quantiles tended to consume less. A limited assessment of non-drinkers indicated a tendency toward greater sensitivity than for alcohol drinkers to multiple tastes (biserial correlation). In S2, thermal tasters cited astringent and bitter more frequently than thermal nontasters (p(F)≤0.01) when sampling beer, and the area under the curve was greater for TTs for several sensations (p(t) < 0.05), indicating that the ‘taste’ advantage of thermal tasters extends to beer. The results from these studies confirm that interindividual differences in sensitivity to alcohol-relevant tastants exist, and that they associate with some measures of alcohol intake. The possibility that broadly-tuned taste sensitivity may be protective against alcohol use and misuse is suggested, and this hypothesis is being explored in ongoing research.

Pickering, G., Thibodeau, M., Mitchell, J., Castura, J.C., Bajec, M. (2019). A bitter pill to swallow? Inter-individual variation in sensitivity to tastants and implications for alcohol consumption. Proceedings of ISER International Conference on Agricultural and Biological Science. 30 March. Kuta, Indonesia.

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