Obesity linked to ability to taste fat

Obese men are less good at tasting fat and less responsive to the effects of fat in the gut than lean men, according to a recent study.

Research finds marked differences between obese and lean men in how they respond to the taste of fat. In obese men, fat is also less effective at stimulating certain gut hormones that are normally released into the bloodstream to suppress appetite.

The rate of obesity continues to rise, and over-consumption of calorie-laden fatty foods is one obvious culprit. 

How much we eat can be influenced by how foods taste and their effects on physiological responses in the gut. A reduced ability to taste and react to fat could lead to over-eating and obesity.

A team led by Professor Christine Feinle-Bisset, from the University of Adelaide, Australia, asked lean and obese men to sip drinks containing small amounts of fat and indicate when they could taste the fat.

Researchers also measured blood levels of a hormone that is normally released from the gut when fat is consumed.

Dr Feinle-Bisset said: ‘We found that being obese was associated with a reduced ability to detect fat taste, and with reduced release of an appetite-suppressing gut hormone.’

‘At this point it is not possible to tell whether reduced responsiveness to the taste of fat or reduced gut hormone release causes over-consumption of fat, or whether eating a high-fat diet impairs taste and hormonal responses to fat.’

To investigate this question, her research team is performing studies to determine whether consumption of a high-fat diet over a period of time can produce similar effects in lean individuals, and also whether a low-fat weight loss diet can improve the ability to taste fat and secrete gut hormones when fat is consumed.

Last year, research published in the Journal of Dental Research suggested that oral bacteria may contribute to the development of obesity.

With the inflammatory nature of obesity being widely recognised, researchers in Boston and Brazil joined forces to investigate whether the so-called obesity epidemic could be caused by an oral bacterial disease.

The study measured salivary bacterial populations of overweight women. Saliva was collected from 313 women with a body mass index between 27 and 32, and bacterial populations were measured by DNA probe analysis. Levels in this group were compared with data from a population of 232 healthy individuals from periodontal disease studies.

Analysis of the data suggested that the composition of salivary bacteria changes in overweight women.

It seems likely that these bacterial species could serve as biological indicators of a developing overweight condition. Of even greater interest, and the subject of future research, is the possibility that oral bacteria may participate in the pathology that leads to obesity.

More recently, a study of young children undergoing treatment for cavities in their baby teeth found that nearly 28% had a body mass index (BMI) above the 85th percentile, indicating overweight or obesity.

That percentage is more than 5% higher than the estimated national average, fuelling growing concern that poor food choices, such as those popular, convenient sugary ‘sippy’ drinks, likely are contributing to both obesity and tooth decay in very young children.

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